Lily Bart A physically beautiful woman of fading youth and frivolous nature. An orphan, she is taken in by the least wealthy of her relatives, Mrs. Peniston. Raised by her mother to believe that her beauty would restore wealth to her family, Lily has learned no practical skills nor developed any of her innate talents. Instead, she shows a knack for putting herself into morally and socially compromising situations, as well as being unlucky in cards and financial matters. Despite such personality drawbacks, however, Lily adheres to a strict code of behavior that prohibits her bettering her own situation at the expense of another.
Lawrence Selden A middle-class attorney who outwardly loathes the upper class but secretly aspires to belong to them. Selden realizes that his income is not sufficient to realize his dreams of marrying Lily, but he eventually proposes to her anyway. His fear of the judgment of the wealthy social class that has outcast Lily causes him to convince himself that he no longer loves her. When he realizes that he does indeed still love her, it is too late.
Gerty Farish Selden's cousin, a pure-hearted young woman who labors for a living and does charity work in her spare time. Possessing neither physical beauty nor money, she secretly harbors a love for Selden while remaining loyal and steadfast in her assistance to Lily.
Carry Fisher A twice-divorced woman with a young child who assists the newly rich to find their place in society by instructing them in manners and customs, as well as introducing them to a select group of the wealthy social class. She also assists Lily when the latter needs work and financial assistance.
Bertha Dorset A cold-hearted, conniving woman who cuckolds her husband, George Dorset, and sabotages Lily's marital opportunities with Percy Gryce. She later uses Lily's unaccompanied late-night return to the Dorsets' yacht with Dorset as a device to cover her own indiscretion with Ned Silverton. Lily possesses letters written by Bertha to Selden, but refuses to use them against either of the pair.
George Dorset Bertha's husband, a cuckold who is smitten with Lily. Lily, however, refuses to consider Dorset a potential candidate for marriage, as such an action would validate Bertha's lies about her.
Simon Rosedale A Jewish businessman who is also in love with Lily. He is new to New York society and is decidedly rough around the edges, despite the administrations of Carry Fisher. Rosedale wishes to marry Lily until she is surrounded by scandal. He renews his proposal, provided Lily uses Bertha's letters to Selden to blackmail Bertha. Lily instead burns the letters.
Gus Trenor Married to Judy Trenor, Trenor is an unattractive, insecure man who uses his ability to make money to seduce women outside his marriage. A heavy drinker, he is crass, rude, and sometimes boorish. He invests his own money on behalf of Carry and Lily, but expects a return of physical affection on his investment.
Judy Trenor A superficial society wife who does not mind her husband's indiscretions but shuns any woman who accepts financial favors from him.
Mrs. Julia Peniston Lily's aunt, a miserly woman who is easily shocked. When she hears that her niece is gambling, she cuts her inheritance to $10,000.
Grace Stepney Lily's cousin who sabotages Lily's chance at receiving a significant inheritance from Mrs. Peniston.
Mr. and Mrs. Wellington Bry New additions to New York society, Bry is accepted for his brash, uncouth demeanor, while Mrs. Bry is looked down upon because of her pretentious and obvious nature.
Mr. and Mrs. Van Osburgh A wealthy couple with four unattractive daughters and a son, Freddy. Their daughter, Gwen, weds Lily's cousin, Jack Stepney.
Ned Silverton A pathetic aesthete and chronic gambler, Silverton writes poetry that is presumably bad while relying on his sisters to support him financially. He clamors for a patroness, first with Bertha, and then with Mattie Gormer.
Freddy Van Osburgh The heir to the Van Osburgh millions, he is targeted for marriage by divorcée Norma Hatch.
Mattie Gormer An employer of Lily who is befriended by Bertha — a friendship resulting in Lily's dismissal.
Mrs. Norma Hatch For a while, an employer of Lily. Hatch is a wealthy divorcée whose designs on Van Osburgh cause Lily to quit her job.
Nettie Struther A young woman who was the beneficiary of Lily's one and only act of charity. Upon holding Nettie's baby, Lily realizes the lost hopes of her youth.
Mrs. Haffen A cleaning lady who worked at the apartment building owned by Rosedale. She rescues the Bertha's letters to Selden, one of the building's tenants, and sells them to Lily — all with Rosedale's knowledge.