On Beauty is a work of dramatic fiction narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator. The story centers around the Belsey family: Howard, an aloof professor; Kiki, a bored romantic, and their three children: Jerome, Zora, and Levi. The Belsey family lives in Massachusetts, where their lives center around the nearby Wellington College. An extramarital affair rocks the Belsey household, as does the presence of the rival Kipps family. Throughout the novel, characters must reckon with marriage, university politics, and racial tensions, as they struggle to accept themselves and those around them.