Gordon Comstock is a disgruntled, discontented and entitled twenty-nine year old who has declared war on money because he is disturbed that it seems to be all most people think about. He comes from a middle-class family but loathes middle-class values and sabotages himself every time he seems to be on the cusp of success. He has given up a job as an advertising copywriter at an advertising company although he showed a great deal of promise and was quite well-paid; its very normal nature repels him and he takes a part-time job in a bookstore instead, which is not paid nearly so well (he takes home two pounds a week) but it does give him plenty of free time in which to write poetry. Gordon sees himself as a great undiscovered poet and has had a volume of poetry published which was critically well-received but sold barely any copies. Later in the novel we learn that it was only published in the first place because Gordon's friend Philip Ravelston, a well-off left wing publisher and writer, pulled a few strings with his contacts, although Gordon does not know this.
After giving up any pursuit of money, Gordon finds money is all he can think about. He is like someone who goes on a crash diet and gives up fries, candy and ice cream. As soon as they decide to diet the fattening food is all they can think about. He blames his lack of money for everything that goes wrong in his life. He has a horrible apartment and a nosy landlady. He has a girlfriend, Rosemary, whom he likes a lot but who refuses to sleep with him - Gordon is certain that if he had money she would already have slept with him and they would be living together by now. Even when he manages to arrange something nice, it goes wrong, and he blames this on lack of money; he and Rosemary take a day-trip to the country, but they decide not to eat at a down-market pub that he can afford opting instead for a restaurant that is out of his price range. He is forced to ask Rosemary for some additional money and he is treated scathingly by their waiter. This makes him angry, not at himself for his own decisions, but at money.
For a while, he and Rosemary split up. She avoids him, and he drifts from relationship to relationship. Surprisingly she comes back into his life uninvited, visiting him at his apartment and surprising him more by sleeping with him. She vanishes again, only to return with news - she is pregnant. Gordon faces a dilemma. If he continues to eschew money, and devote his life to poetry writing, he will be unable to support himself, let alone a wife and child. If he goes back to Albion Advertising, he will be making a one hundred and eighty degree turn on his principles, but he will be able to support his family. The irony of this situation is that Gordon has been looking for an excuse to return to a life with more money in it; this gives him that opportunity. He goes back to work at the advertising agency. He and Rosemary marry and move in together. He buys an aspidistra, a symbol of middle class suburbia in England. He has become everything he sneered at - and it seems that this is the person he was all along.