Jael 97's good looks have been deemed a cause of discontent among other women, and she finds herself reporting to the Ministry of Facial Justice, where her face will be reconstructed to become 'beta' (second-grade). For she lives in a post-apocalyptic world, where society is based on a collective sense of guilt, where all citizens are labelled 'delinquents' and obliged to wear sackcloth and ashes. Individuality and privilege, which might arouse envy, are stamped out.
But Jael refuses to fit in. Forced to become 'beta', and thus exempt from envy, her self-respect and rebellious spirit cannot be suppressed so easily. Slowly, she begins the struggle to reassert the rights of the individual.
L. P. Hartley's dystopian classic is a darkly entertaining vision of human weakness, envy and governmental interference taken to their most chilling extremes.