A slum in the neighbourhood of Catfish Row in Charleston is home to many African Americans. They are poor people on the lowest rung of the social ladder who have more or less failed in life and are eking out an existence as best they can. But racial segregation means they have no real prospects. One of them is the lame beggar Porgy who roams the slum with a goat and a handcart. One warm evening, several men begin a fight over a game of dice. The aggressive Crown stabs his opponent to death and flees. He has been living with the attractive Bess who now finds shelter with Porgy, which delights the beggar since he has always had his eye on her but never dreamt that she could ever be interested in a cripple like him. Amazingly, Porgy and Bess grow extremely fond of one another. Even when another man, Sportin’ Life, tries to persuade Bess to go to New York with him she declines. She feels that she now belongs to Porgy. When the entire neighbourhood – except Porgy – goes on a picnic to an island, Crown suddenly reappears: he is in hiding there. In secret he harasses Bess until she yields to his persistent advances and follows him into the wood. The others go back without her. She remains missing for a week and then returns to Porgy, distressed and sick. She slowly recovers and confesses all to Porgy, at the same time insisting that she loves him. She does not want anything like that to happen again. Porgy forgives her and the two resume their life of harmony. But some time later Crown returns and wants to take Bess with him. Porgy kills Crown. Although the police do not identify him as the murderer they imprison him for a minor offence. While he is away, Bess feels lost and when Sportin’ Life tells her that Porgy will never be released from gaol she believes him. So she goes to New York with him after all. Porgy is unexpectedly released after one week and finds Bess gone. When he hears where she has gone he decides to follow her and sets off in the direction of New York with his goat and his handcart.