18-year-old Joy, who comes from a big family with a heavy drinking mother and womanising father, leaves home to marry Tom and they have a son, Johnny. Tom mentally and physically abuses Joy and shows little interest or affection. He has been in prison for four years and, when he is jailed again after being caught attempting a big robbery, they are left on their own.
After briefly sharing a room with her Aunt Emm, an ageing prostitute, she moves in with Dave, one of Tom's criminal associates. Dave is tender and understanding, but the idyll is shattered when he is sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for leading a robbery which results in a woman being blinded, and given his long criminal record. Intending to be faithful to him, Joy moves back with Aunt Emm, writes to him frequently, and initiates divorce proceedings against Tom.
However, after taking a job as a barmaid, she starts modelling for a seedy photographers' club and drifts into promiscuity. She likes men giving her presents but is too impulsive and easygoing to make a living as a prostitute. She is bored of her humdrum surroundings and dreams of bettering herself. When Tom is released, Joy goes back to him after he promises to move her from her small grotty flat to a modern well-furnished house.
However, one evening, after Tom has slapped her several times, she goes out and, when she returns, she finds Tom watching the TV and Johnny missing. After a frantic search, she finds him alone on a demolition site where he has gone to play. Realising how much Johnny means to her, she decides to stay with Tom despite the abuse, but continues to dream of a future with Dave.
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