A war veteran overcomes drug addiction, marries, tries to help workers, goes to prison, donates his fortune to the poor, and suffers unemployment.
In the World War Roger Winston (Gordon Westcott) is too afraid; but Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess) captures a German and is shot. Roger brings in the German and is honored with a medal. Germans take Tom to a hospital and give him morphine for the pain. On the ship Tom sees Roger, who is welcomed home as a hero. At home Tom takes morphine; but he needs $200 for an ounce of the illegal drug. Roger's father (Berton Churchill) is dissatisfied with Tom's work at the bank. Tom is tempted to steal but pleads with Dr. Briggs (Robert McWade), who calls Tom's employer Winston. Tom says that Roger was yellow; but Roger tell his father that Tom was raving like an addict. Tom spends 18 months at the state narcotics farm.
With his parents dead, Tom goes to Chicago. At a cafe Max Brinker (Robert Barrat) argues for Communism. Mary (Aline MacMahon) rents a room to Tom when he meets Ruth (Loretta Young), who works at a laundry. The boss George W. Gibson (Grant Mitchell) asks Tom how he is getting more business for the laundry, and he explains he offers merchandise to those who find new customers. Tom is promoted, and Mary lets Tom and Ruth celebrate alone. Tom makes more money and marries Ruth. Brinker asks Tom for $1500 to patent his laundry invention. Tom gets others to contribute and sells it to Gibson to help but not hurt the employees. Ruth gives birth to a boy Bill. After Gibson dies, new machines are installed, and the workers complain of lost jobs. Tom tries to stop them from smashing the machines. Police and workers riot. Ruth arrives and is killed. Tom is arrested and sentenced to five years. Mary takes care of Bill.
Brinker visits Tom and says they are getting $2,000 a month from the invention. Tom doesn't want the money; but Brinker now says only money is important. Tom works in prison until 1932. He tells Bill he was in Alaska. Brinker shows him that he has $50,000. Mary and her Pa (Charley Grapewin) feed the poor but run out of food. Tom gives Mary his money to feed the people, while Brinker criticizes. Two men from a red squad warn Tom. After a factory riot the red squad arrests two men. Tom is told to leave town or go to prison; he leaves without his money. Tom looks for work with other men, and they are put on a train. Among the hobos Tom meets Roger, who says he and his father used depositors' funds. They are arrested and escorted out of the community. At Mary's soup kitchen Bill says that he wants to be like his father.
This drama contains powerful messages about war and its heroes, drug addiction, banking, conflicts between capitalists and workers, and how the unemployed were treated in the early 1930s. Brinker complains of exploitation when he is poor but does it to become rich, while Tom cares for people and sacrifices even after he has made money.