This film portrays the troubles a woman goes through to find the one man she loves.
After her mother died when she was born, Helga (Greta Garbo) is brought up by a father who does not want her. He orders her to marry Mondstrum (Alan Hale). When he tries to force himself on her even before the wedding, she runs away in the rain and is taken in by the young engineer Rodney (Clark Gable). She cooks breakfast for him, and they go fishing. As she helps him pack for a business trip, it is apparent they have fallen in love. He promises her the ring her mother never had. Found by her father, Helga refuses to go back, running away again, this time on a train. She is introduced as Susie Lenox and gets a job in a carnival. When Mondstrum comes looking for her, her boss hides her in his compartment. She has been writing to Rodney, and eventually he comes to see her but is jealous of the way the boss treats her. He throws the ring down in disgust and leaves. Though she hated men before (except for Rodney), now Susie decides to enjoy them.
Lovesick Rodney gets fired for being drunk and causing a cave-in. Susan has risen into high society and has secretly arranged for Rodney to get a lucrative contract. As she is hosting a fine dinner party, Rodney says she has "accepted the protection of a shady politician" and storms out. That night Susan decides to leave the politician and look for Rodney; but he has gone away. After traveling to many cities Susan is working at a saloon in a jungle port. A rich American invites her to go on a cruise with him; but she says only one man means anything to her. She finally meets Rodney in the saloon and tells him how she worked her way to find him and that she has been refusing all men. She says she'll do anything for him, while he drinks and tries to take her crudely. The rich man intervenes and asks her to marry him. Rodney tells her he has been trying to forget her in the jungle and drink. She asks Rodney to leave with her, saying there is a "bond of hurt" between them. He has doubts, but in the end she promises, "I'll make you believe in me."
This mostly sad but romantic story enables the audience to experience the longing and difficulties experienced by a romantically ideal woman (Garbo) and man (Gable). He wants her to be faithful only to him and almost ruins his life when her life's challenges do not allow that purity. Her perseverance and determination in spite of great difficulties is admirable and finally rewarded, bringing emotional resolution.