The Kabanov household is dominated by the quarrelsome old woman Kabanicha, whose weak-willed son, Tichon, is married to Kát'a. Another man,
Boris, has his eyes on Kát'a. Varvara, an orphan adopted into the household, sees Kát'a's unhappiness and urges her to follow her impulses. Tichon goes away to market.
The women are left in the house and Kabanicha starts her habitual complaining. Varvara organizes a tryst in the garden for Kát'a and Boris, as well as for herself and her lover Kudrjás. When Kát'a meets Boris she is afraid at first, but finally lets herself go. The two couples are in love.
It is two weeks later and there is a fearful storm. Tichon has returned and Kát'a is overwhelmed by guilt. Despite the attempts of Varvara and Kudrjà to stop her, she confesses she has spent every night with Boris. She rushes out into the storm. Varvara and Kudrjàè decide to elope, while Kát'a wants to see Boris once more. They find each other and embrace. He has to go to a trading post in Siberia and they say farewell. Kát'a throws herself into the Volga. The family arrive and Tichon, for the first time, gets angry with Kabanicha and blames her for destroying Kát'a. Kabanicha is unmoved.