A poverty stricken old man, Toby "Trotty" Veck, who does odd messenger jobs for cash is in wonder at the cruelty and heartlessness of the world. He contemplates whether people are good or bad and through a series of events with a prostitute and her abusive pimp, corrupt politicians, purse thieves, and a mother who commits suicide after killing her child, he sees that people are indeed vile and evil beings who must be born that way to be so awful.
On his way home, Trotty stumbles upon a man who some corrupt politicians are trying to capture. He is very poor and carrying a little girl. The two of them return to Trotty's house where they are cared for and fed by Trotty's family. That very night, goblins from the bell tower come down and whisk Trotty away, taking him into the future on a mission to show Trotty that people are not born bad.
Trotty must endure scenes of the way his family, and the pair that he took in, end up - with the little girl working as a prostitute, and the man ending up in jail attempting suicide, and more. As Trotty sees how these circumstances developed, he finally realizes a great lesson that evil is created in man but not born within him.