Royal is like his mother, Ester, and his father, Gabriel, in his younger days. He is not concerned with churchgoing and giving up earthly pleasures. He is motivated solely by his own desires. Never is he seen to act with any responsibility. The only time he does attempt to act in benefit of a cause outside of himself is when he tries to join the army; however, he is prevented from joining by his grandmother.
Even after his death, Royal continues to be an important character in the novel, affecting the lives of others who know nothing of him. Gabriel cannot accept the fact that it is his illegitimate stepson, John, and not his biological children (Royal or Roy), who is active in the church. Gabriel punishes the unwitting and bewildered child for taking the rightful place of his own sons, a place that neither son had or has any interest in. Gabriel finds it inconceivable and infuriating that John would be saved while his other sons are lost. Royal is literally lost to the grave, while the young and willful Roy seems to be lost to the dangerous lifestyle that his father escaped and that claimed the life of his half-brother. Elizabeth is not safe from Gabriel's memories of Royal either. When she unwittingly reminds Gabriel of his first son's death from a stab wound, Gabriel strikes her and knocks her to the floor.
Memories of Royal serve as a constant reminder to Gabriel of his own fallibility and potential for sin. Reminders of Royal also fuel Gabriel's guilt for fathering a child but not raising him, allowing him to go off by himself and be killed. Royal's ghost is omnipresent in the Grimes household, acting as a barrier between Gabriel and his family, a barrier that prevents real communication, honesty, and acceptance among those who should be close to one another.