Ishmael Chambers The protagonist. Ishmael is the owner and sole, regular reporter for the island's only newspaper. A war veteran, Ishmael has a personal connection to the proceedings. He's never gotten over his relationship with Hatsue, nor has he ever forgiven her for breaking his heart. The war cost him his arm, his girlfriend, and his faith in God. Although not a member of the jury, he plays a major role in determining whether justice will be served.
Hatsue Miyamoto Kabuo's wife. Hatsue had a high school romance with Ishmael but broke up with him during the internment. Although intrigued by the romantic notion of love, Hatsue settles for the practical aspects of it. Throughout the novel she is torn between the American and Japanese cultures and struggles to find her own sense of identity, especially when her identity means being defined in terms of others.
Kabuo Miyamoto The accused. An American of Japanese descent who is determined to reclaim the seven acres of land that was essentially stolen from his father during World War II. He married Hatsue at the Manzanar Concentration Camp and then went off to war, fighting for the Allies. The prosecution proves that he's a liar, but being a liar doesn't automatically make him a murderer.
Zenhichi Miyamoto Kabuo's father. He makes a deal with Carl Heine, Sr., but is unable to make the final payments due to his wartime internment.
Fujiko Imada Hatsue's mother. She tries to make her daughter realize that she is different than the other islanders. Fujiko, brought to the United States under false pretenses, epitomizes the struggle of all Japanese women forced to live in a foreign culture.
Sumiko Imada Hatsue's sister. She finds a love letter from Ishmael and shows it to her mother while the family is at Manzanar.
Hisao Imada Hatsue's father.
Carl Heine, Jr. The victim. Growing up, Carl and Kabuo were friends; separated during the war, they drifted apart. While he was away fighting, Carl's father died, and his mother sold the family farm. Even though he didn't always agree with what his mother did, Carl wanted to remain loyal to her. Carl ended up buying back the land his father used to own, including the seven acres that Kabuo felt were rightfully his. Kabuo told Hatsue that Carl agreed to think about selling him the land, but nobody else knew of the agreement.
Carl Heine, Sr. Carl's father. He made the original agreement with Zenhichi Miyamoto (Kabuo's father) to sell the seven acres, but died before the affairs were settled. He, like Arthur Chambers, is one of the few islanders who don't categorize people by their skin color.
Etta Heine Carl's mother. She is the most outspoken bigot in the story. She distrusts and dislikes all people of Japanese descent. She speaks her mind and is convinced she did nothing wrong when she didn't follow her husband's agreement, an agreement she never approved of and considered wrong. She is also convinced that Kabuo killed her son, and she will tell only the testimony that supports that assertion.
Susan Marie Heine Carl's widow. Her memories provide telling testimony about Carl's character, though she didn't know everything about her husband.
Arthur Chambers Ishmael's father. He started the San Piedro Review and tried to remain objective during the war. Not all islanders cared for his views. Ishmael continued the paper after Arthur's death.
Nels Gudmundsson Kabuo's court-appointed attorney. He knew he needed to earn Kabuo's trust before he would learn the truth about happened on the night in question. An elderly, experienced litigator, he knows his way around the courtroom. He also knows that the court of popular opinion has already found Kabuo guilty.
Alvin Hooks The prosecutor. His job is to present the case, with all the damning evidence. He is competent and quick, and when new testimony and assertions are added to the mix late in the day, he responds adroitly and effectively. His case is quite compelling, but is it 100 percent accurate?
Ole Jurgensen Farmer who purchased land from Etta Heine. After the war, he sold the land back to Carl Jr. because a stroke left him unable to care for it.
Art Moran The sheriff. He's in charge of investigating Carl's death. Initially, Art states that the death was accidental, but too many things don't quite add up, and eventually he charges Kabuo with murder. He is satisfied that the mooring rope and the gaff with Carl's blood are more than enough evidence to convict Kabuo.
Abel Martinson The deputy. He assists Sheriff Moran as best he can, but investigation isn't his strong suit.
Llewellyn Fielding The judge. Llewellyn controls the pace of the legal proceedings, directing what is admissible and inadmissible, and instructs the jurors in regards to their legal obligations, insisting for them to "stay objective, be reasonable." (Much — although not all — of the evidence against Kabuo is circumstantial.) Because Judge Fielding follows his own advice, he is competent and fair during the proceedings.
Horace Whaley The Island County coroner. His wartime memories prevent him from being entirely objective when giving his testimony. Although he knows that the cause of Carl's death was drowning, he still implies that Carl was forced overboard by encouraging Sheriff Moran to "start looking for a Jap with a bloody gun butt."
Mrs. Shigemura Hatsue's teacher. She taught many of the island girls of Japanese descent what it means to be a Japanese woman. Most of what Hatsue knew of her parents' culture came from her.
Erik Syvertsen The fisherman who found the Susan Marie adrift.
Bjorn Andreason Islander who purchased Etta Heine's home.
Ed Soames The courtroom bailiff.
Mrs. Eleanor Dokes The court stenographer.
William Gjovaag, Marty Johansson, Dale Middleton, and Leonard George Island fishermen.
Mr. Niita A berry farmer. When they were young, Hatsue, Ishmael, and Kabuo all picked berries for him.