McTeague, a strong but stupid dentist, marries Trina, introduced to him by her cousin Marcus Schouler. When Trina wins $5,000 in a lottery and increases the sum by shrewd investment, Schouler, who had wanted to marry Trina himself, feels cheated. In revenge, he exposes McTeague's lack of diploma or license.
Forbidden to practice, McTeague becomes mean and surly, but the miserly Trina refuses to let him use her money, and they sink into poverty. What follows is a descent into the ultimate crime - murder - and life as a fugitive, in a tale that moves toward its harrowing conclusion with the grim power and inevitability of classic tragedy.