1920s Rural Quebec. Francis, a brilliant but shy boy, lives in a shack in the woods with his mother Claudine, a misanthropic and strict disciplinarian. Isolated, their austere existence is punctuated by numerous physical beatings at her hand. She wants him to become a priest so that God will forgive her for bearing a child out of wedlock. At the age of 17, Francis voices his fierce opposition to her decision and in anger Claudine beats him so violently on the head that he loses his hearing. Shortly after, Claudine dies in an accident, leaving the young man completely alone. He meets Amica, a beautiful Indian woman traveling with a peddler and buys her in order to end his isolation.