Inspired by real-life events, the story is set in a claustrophobic Moravian village. Two halfbrothers, Steva and Latsa, are at loggerheads over the ownership of their dead mother's mill, left to the feckless, drunken Steva by his equally irresponsible father. Their need for possession extends also to Jenufa, their beautiful cousin, who is the stepdaughter of the socially respected widow Kostelnichka. Between them, the three people who claim to love Jenufa destroy her. Latsa slashes her face with a knife and permanently mars her beauty; Steva and Kostelnichka attack her even more horribly, the former by impregnating and abandoning her and the latter by murdering her baby.