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On the outskirts of Rome, penniless, Czech-born Karin Bjiorsen is romanced in a displaced persons camp for women by Antonio, a recently released prisoner-of-war. Although Karin speaks little Italian, and Antonio speaks little English, Karin accepts his marriage proposal after her request for an Argentine visa is denied. Following the wedding ceremony, Karin accompanies Antonio to his home on the volcanic island of Stromboli, which Antonio has described to her in loving terms. Karin is shocked to discover that Stromboli is not only physically bleak, but almost deserted as well, as most of its people have long since abandoned the island. When Antonio proudly shows Karin his empty, rundown house, which stands in the shadow of the island's active volcano, Karin explodes with anger. Although Karin demands that they leave Stromboli, Antonio insists on staying, stating that, as his wife, she must obey him. The next day, after Antonio reveals that he is nearly broke, Karin again rails against her husband. Crying with frustration, the sophisticated Karin denounces Antonio as too poor and simple to make her happy. Later, Karin is visited by the village priest, who sympathizes with her, but encourages her to be patient and "make the best of things." Antonio, who once owned his own boat but must now fish as part of a crew, then returns home with a large catch. While Antonio goes to Messina to sell his fish, Karin decides to take the priest's advice and fix up the house. Karin is aided in her efforts by an old man, but is shunned by the women of the village because she is different. Just before Antonio is to return from Messina, Karin tells the old man that she wants the village seamstress to make her a new dress. Indifferent to the old man's warnings about the seamstress' reputation, Karin goes to her home that night. There she sees the local lighthouse keeper, a former prisoner of war who suffers from malaria, resting in the seamstress' bed. When some of the men from the village begin singing under the seamstress' window, Karin smiles approvingly at them. Antonio then walks by and, upon seeing his wife, becomes furious with jealousy. After dragging Karin back to their home, Antonio reveals that, because of her, he received a smaller share of the fishing money. Antonio also shows little enthusiasm for the changes Karin has made in the house and is hurt to discover that she has removed his family portraits. The next day, Karin visits the priest and begs him to help her and Antonio leave the island. Although at first willing to consider her request, the priest becomes indignant when Karin, a confessed "sinner," makes a pass at him. Later, Karin is seen in an innocent embrace with the lighthouse keeper and becomes the target of local gossip. Taunted by the villagers, who call him a cuckold, Antonio storms home and beats Karin. He then drags her to Mass, where she is stared at by the entire congregation. Sometime later, Karin decides to watch Antonio participate in the annual tuna hunt, but is disgusted by the massive slaughter. After Karin reveals to Antonio that she is pregnant, the volcano erupts, forcing the villagers to spend the night at sea in their fishing boats. Distraught, Karin announces to Antonio that she is leaving Stromboli, as she does not want to rear a child there. Although Antonio nails the door to his wife's bedroom shut, the lighthouse keeper happens by the house and releases her. Karin convinces the lighthouse keeper to help her flee Stromboli, but then decides to walk by herself to the other side of the island, where she hopes to catch a motor boat. As she is passing the steamy volcano top, Karin is overcome with heat and exhaustion and collapses in tears on the ground. When she awakens the next morning, she stares at the now-peaceful volcano and, seeing God in its beauty, rushes back to start a new life with Antonio.