This waterfront story portrays an uneducated woman, who makes a violent sacrifice for her adopted daughter.
Bill (Wallace Beery) has a fishing boat; he boards with Min (AA-winner Marie Dressler) and sells her vodka. Teenage Nancy (Dorothy Jordan) has been living with and working for Min since she was a baby. A truant officer comes to check up on her, and Nancy tells him that she works from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. She wants to stay with Min and tells him they don't sell liquor. The truant officer says that Nancy needs to go to school. Min won't let Nancy dance with Alec, who wants to take Nancy away and use her good looks to make money. Min and Bill are friends; she trusts him because he is "too dumb to be anything but honest." He says he feels the same about her. Min takes Nancy to live with a schoolteacher. Nancy comes back and says she can't go back to school; but Min chases her away.
Bella visits Min and drinks with Bill; she asks Min about her kid. Min gives the schoolteacher money to send Nancy away to school right away. Then in a jealous rage Min throws out Bella, attacks Bill, and destroys his room, using an ax. Two years later she gets a letter from Nancy, saying that she is coming back with Dick Cameron. On the boat Bella is caught with a man in her room; she is returning to visit with Min. Nancy invites Min to live with her and Dick, but she refuses. Bella learns that her daughter is marrying a rich man and tells Min she intends to get money from her. Min won't let Bella go and shoots her. Bill sees what happened and is going to take Min to Mexico on his boat; but as Nancy and Dick are leaving on his yacht after the wedding, the police arrest Min. Although she know she faces a homicide charge, Min smiles because Nancy's life has not been molested by her alcoholic mother.
Although the audience sympathizes with Min's efforts to save the girl she raised from her selfish mother, it is hard to justify murder as a solution. Min and Bill have a tempestuous relationship, and it is obvious that Min exploited the labor of the child for many years. Yet in spite of all this, education is valued and is seen as a way for the poor girl to find and marry into a much better life.