Anna Christie is the story of a former prostitute who falls in love, but runs into difficulty in turning her life around.
The first act takes place in a bar owned by Johnny the Priest and tended by Larry. Coal-barge captain Old Chris receives a letter from his daughter, a young woman he has not seen since she was 5 years old and their family lived in Sweden. They meet at the bar and she agrees to go on the coal barge with him. The rest of the play takes place on the barge.
The barge crew rescues Mat Burke and 4 other men who were in an open boat after a shipwreck. After not getting along initially, Mat and Anna fall in love.
A confrontation among Anna, Chris and Mat. Mat wants to marry Anna, Chris does not want her to marry any sailor, and Anna doesn't want either of them to think they're in charge of her. She tells them the truth about her life: she was raped while living with her mother's relatives on a Minnesota farm, then became a prostitute after some time as a nurse's aide. Mat gets furious, and he and Chris leave.
Mat and Chris return. Anna forgives Chris for not being part of her childhood, and after a dramatic confrontation, Mat forgives Anna for being a prostitute after she promises to stop, and Chris agrees to their getting married. It turns out that Chris and Mat have both signed up for the same ship that is leaving for South Africa the next day, but they promise to return to Anna after the voyage.