The mechanic is sentenced to death but escapes through the work of an unknown group of men. One of the daughters decides that in order to carry on she and her family must run a boarding house. At the time people feared being relegated to the poor house.
The hopeful find nourishment in marvels. Eventually John Ashley, the condemned man, makes his way to Chile to work in the copper mines. The root of avarice is the fear of what circumstances might bring. Ashley had tried to live in a manner opposite that of his father who was a miser.
After the crisis and while the boarding house was being started, John Ashley's son Roger, age seventeen, moved to Chicago. In the beginning he was a dishwasher. Quickly he moved through jobs as a hotel clerk and an orderly. Roger met some journalists and resolved to become a newspaper man.
He was starved for food of the spirit. Once he was given a ticket to FIDELIO. After being in Chicago eighteen months he became a reporter. Roger met his sister, the musician of the family, in Chicago. His sister Lily's friend, the Maestro, told Roger that works of art are the only satisfactory productions of civilization.
Roger and his sister hit upon a plan to use their real extravagant middle names and last names in their newspaper work and singing respectively to enable their father to contact them. John Ashley had gone to engineering school in Hoboken. He met his wife Beata Kellerman there. Beata had been formed by her parents' best principles, but her parents did not recognize them. All young people secrete idealism.
In the end the child who started the boarding house and saved the family broke down and ended up in the poor house. Everyone else was successful and the mystery of the murder of the general manager was solved.
Thornton Wilder employs many myths drawn from history of the settlement of the west, including the settlement by unusual religious communities. This work resembles the novels of Willa Cather. It is excellent.