John Grimes The novel's main character. The novel tells of his personal struggles and his coming of age in a strict, religious atmosphere.
Gabriel Grimes John's stepfather. Much of the novel centers on John's struggle with Gabriel and their mutual lack of understanding.
Elizabeth Grimes John's mother and Gabriel's wife. Elizabeth accepts her life in Gabriel's shadow because of her past misfortunes and her desire for redemption. Although a source of comfort, she is a constant puzzle to John because of her silence.
Florence John's aunt and Gabriel's sister. Paradoxically, Florence in many ways serves as a protector even though she often fails in that role.
Roy Gabriel and Elizabeth's son and John's half-brother. Although he is Gabriel's favored son, the boy's wild nature often causes problems not only for himself but also for his mother and brother.
Royal Gabriel's illegitimate son who was conceived during a short affair with Ester. Memories of Royal and his own lack of involvement in the boy's life haunt Gabriel throughout his own life and color his relationships with his other children.
Ester Gabriel's mistress who died giving birth to his son Royal. Memories of Ester are a reminder to Gabriel of the consequences of sin and the ease of falling from the path of the righteous.
Elisha The youth minister and piano player at the Church of the Fire Baptized. He is John's friend and advisor.
Deborah Gabriel's first wife. She appears in the memories of Gabriel and Florence but is dead at the time in which the current action takes place.
Elizabeth's aunt Sister of Elizabeth's mother. She separated Elizabeth from her father and took her to live with her in Maryland after the death of Elizabeth's mother.
Richard Elizabeth's first love and the biological father of John. He committed suicide before learning of Elizabeth's pregnancy.
Rachel Florence and Gabriel's mother who was born in slavery and lost several other children.
Frank Florence's husband who deserted her and later died in WWI.
Sister McDonald Ester's mother.
Ruth and Sara Gabriel and Elizabeth's daughters. They are John's half-sisters.
Father James, Deacon Braithwaite, Ella Mae, Sister McCandless, Praying Mother Washington Members of the Church of the Fire Baptized.