A teacher from the north visits New Orleans and falls in love with a local woman of mixed race.
New Orleans, 1835. Caleb Wycliffe is walking down the street when he comes across a flyer for the Quadroon Ball featuring Jackson Barracks Military Band. He follows a group of men including Cesare Dupree and Jacques. The group gathers around and Jacques and another slave are forced to fight. Jacques loses the fight. Caleb tries to buy Jacques from Dupree, but Dupree instead suggests they play a card game, if Caleb wins he can have Jacques, if Dupree wins, he gets all of Caleb's money. Caleb loses and hands over all of his money. He goes to his cousin, Suzanne's house and then tells Suzanne, Aunt Nancy and Antoine how he lost all of his money to Dupree. Antoine tells Caleb of the many rumors surrounding Dupree including slave murder and torture. Antoine explains to Caleb that Creole men have a Creole wife and a Quadroon mistress. He then tells Caleb about the Quadroon ball where the Quadroon men are presented. They go to the home of Madame Celeste Labusse so Caleb can teach her daughter Coral Labusse and Coral's friends how to read and write. Coral questions Caleb and gives her opinion on what her future worth will be based upon. After his class, Caleb tells Antoine about Coral and Antoine explains how Creole's pay the mothers of the Quadroons for their daughters. Antoine then tells Caleb that Jacques is to be auctioned in the old and disobedient slave auction. Caleb, Antoine, and Aunt Nancy go to the slave auction and buy Jacques. Antoine takes Caleb to the Monsier Mereaux Combat d'Armes, a fencing school and introduces him to Mereaux and Felix Ledeux. Antoine and Felix put on an exhibition until Mereaux stops them.
Coral tells Caleb that her friends are at a party due to one of them becoming engaged at the Quadroon ball the night before. Caleb tries to tell Coral that her education will be worth something, but she thinks her worth is only determined by her looks. Coral tells Caleb she thinks he is falling in love with her and he tells her if he had money he would arrange for her and set her free and they kiss. Caleb leaves and Celeste enters the room and tells Coral she understands that she feels cheated, but she would never be white enough for Caleb. Antoine and Caleb arrive at the Quadroon ball and watch as the Creole men choose their Quadroon mistresses. Antoine insults Felix and Felix challenges him to a duel. They duel and Antoine kills Felix after being stabbed in the side. Jacques laughs at Caleb and tells him he once had a master like him who was also very proper. Caleb tells Suzanne he feels sorry for Camille, Felix's mistress, but Suzanne calls Camille a whore. Camille tells Caleb that her friend Annette was the Creole wife of Felix, who after he got her pregnant multiple times, took a new Creole mistress every year. Caleb goes to Celeste's house, and she tells him Coral went to stay with Camille, who is grieving. He goes to Camille's house and finds Coral sitting next to Camille who has killed herself. She then tells Caleb that the Church has refused to bury Camille. Caleb offers to take Coral with him up North, but she refuses. Coral and Celeste go to the Quadroon ball where Coral is bargained for by Dupree. Caleb confronts Dupree who is outside forcing himself onto Coral. Dupree tells Caleb his tutoring of Coral was useless as she will not need to read and write while on her back. Dupree then challenges Caleb to a duel. Coral tells Caleb to leave New Orleans, but he refuses and he tells her he loves her. Caleb goes to Antoine and Antoine suggests that he choose pistols for the duel. The duel happens and Dupree shoots Caleb in the arm, who then fires his weapon into the air. Antoine then tells Caleb that by shooting into the air he has shown Dupree the ultimate insult.
Caleb comes home from celebrating winning the duel and tells Jacques he won. Jacques tells Caleb that he has a friend waiting upstairs. Caleb enters the room and Coral kisses him, they then have sex. Caleb tries to convince Coral to leave with him, but she refuses and tells him they can't ever see each other again. As Caleb goes to get Brandy from downstairs, he is attacked by two of Dupree's men including John Henri, but he and Jacques fight them off. He tells Coral they can take a carriage to the docks tomorrow and then leave to Jamaica. As he arrives at Coral's house he finds the authorities there arresting Celeste and Coral. Dupree tells him he tipped off the authorities that Celeste was never a freed slave and so her and her children must be made slaves. Dupree then tells Caleb that Celeste and Coral will be sold at the auction. Caleb goes to the prison and Celeste tells him if he buys her then she has a plan to save Coral. At the auction, Dupree buys Coral and then takes her away. Antoine then buys Celeste. Celeste tells Caleb her plan and where to meet Coral and then leaves to Dupree's house. Coral spits at Dupree and he hits her. Dupree then has his men lock Coral in the spring house.
Celeste arrives and tells Dupree that if he allows her to see her daughter then she will advise Coral to change her mood. Celeste goes into the spring house and tells Coral to switch clothes with her and leave and she will meet her later. Thomas tells Dupree that Coral has escaped and Dupree has his slaves gang rape Celeste. Dupree finds out where Caleb and Coral are meeting Antoine and head that way. Caleb and Coral make it to the meeting point with Jacques and wait. Coral finds out that Celeste didn't meet up with Antoine and tells Caleb she wants to go back. Antoine arrives and tells them the boat won't leave until tomorrow and that Celeste is dead. Dupree arrives with John Henri and Thomas. Dupree then forces Caleb to duel with him once more. Dupree shoots and kills Caleb and Thomas shoots and kills Jacques. Dupree leaves with Coral and Antoine looks at the bodies of Caleb and Jacques. Antoine is walking in town when he comes across a tourist looking at the flyer for the Quadroon Ball. He then explains what Quadroons are to the newcomer as he once did to Caleb.