The Winter of Our Discontent - Plot Synopsis

Setting | Character Summaries| Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception


The Winter of Our Discontent is the story of Ethan Allen Hawley, a member of a once great family turned broke.  Ethan, an honest man, spends his days reliving the old days of family glory, while working as a grocery clerk in a store his family once owned.  Yet on Good Friday, his way of living is questioned by some of the people closest to him.   These people, as well as his children and other members of the town, all encourage him to bring back the riches and glory of his family name.  He feels they reproach him for being so unsuccessful, when his name implies that he should be a great success. 

These temptations pressure Ethan to devise a plan to regain the riches that his family once knew.  The three part plan consists of robbing the bank; turning his illegal immigrant boss over to the authorities so that he can purchase the store; and taking a very important plot of land away from the town drunk, Danny Taylor, who also happens to be Ethan’s ex-best friend.  As Ethan enacts his plan he convinces himself that means of obtaining the wealth that he will gain are justified because immorality is the method used by the rich to obtain wealth.

Ethan’s plan is altered in that he does not rob the bank in the end.  He succeeds, however, in having his boss deported.  He is even further rewarded because his boss gives him the store because he was a good and “honest” worker for so many years.  Ethan also obtains the plot of land that his ex-best friend owned.  Danny wills him the land because Ethan makes it look like he was trying to get Danny sober by giving him $1000.  However, Danny uses the money to kill himself.  Unfortunately, Ethan knew that this is what his friend would do with the money, and, therefore, knew he was going to cause the Danny’s death.   

As Ethan’s family and friends celebrate the success of his new accomplishments, the family learns that Ethan’s son, Allen, won an essay contest.  Ethan finds that he cannot celebrate the families’ new success as his conscience begins to get the better of him.  The last blow hits when Ethan finds out that his son plagiarized the essay he submitted to the contest.  Ethan leaves the house and tries to kill himself.  But before he does, he notices that his daughter left the family talisman in his pocket.  He realizes that the only hope in the future rests in his daughter, Mary Ellen, now the only untainted member of the Hawley family.  He returns home to pass the talisman off to her, “Else another light might go out.” (276)


Setting | Character Summaries| Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception