- The protagonist and the author of the novel. Bradley is the novel's most fully developed character and also the one who changes the most within it. Bradley starts the book as a cold and occasionally cruel character. He treats Francis and Christian with blunt rudeness. He ignores his very depressed sister, Priscilla, and it is his neglect, in part, that leads to her suicide. In the beginning of the novel, Bradley acts only with self-interest, but after his experience of love he changes into a content, more generous creature, who is finally able to write a master novel.
in-depth analysis of Bradley Pearson.
- The very successful popular writer whom Bradley is accused of killing at the end of the novel. Arnold and Bradley's friendship is one of the primary relationships within the novel. Although Bradley frequently dislikes Arnold, Arnold is portrayed very favorably. He is a polite, interesting man who always wants to know more about people's characters and who always longs to talk to them. He takes great pleasure in hearing about Francis Marloe's life, for example, while Bradley at the same time is trying to get Francis out the door. Arnold's compassionate interest contrasts Bradley's coldness.
- The wife of Arnold Baffin. Rachel is a forceful woman whom both Arnold and Bradley underestimate. Arnold seems to think that all is well between him and his wife; Bradley regards Rachel as a benign, older woman. Rachel's firm speech and unforgiving tone, however, suggests the power within her personality, even if the other characters cannot see it. Rachel herself predicts her fierceness when she tells Bradley that she still has "real fire" in her. Despite Rachel's fierceness, she is also a sympathetic character who also helps to articulate the difficulties of being a middle-aged housewife.
- The daughter of Arnold and Rachel Baffin and the person with whom Bradley falls desperately in love. Julian is a youthful, naïve girl who frequently appears foolish. Because Bradley Pearson is in love with her, and because he retells her story, her naïve nature is not always apparent and she occasionally comes across as sexually aggressive. Her naïveté however can be seen in her actions. For example, although she has broken up with her boyfriend just a week before, she decides that she is completely in love with Bradley and that she wants to marry him.
in-depth analysis of Julian Baffin.
- Christian's brother and Bradley Pearson's ex-brother-in-law. Francis is a comic character who exists for other characters and readers to laugh at. Francis's comic nature comes from his pitiful physical condition and his constantly groveling behavior. Furthermore, the way that the other characters verbally abuse Francis provides comic effect, in a slapstick manner. Francis basically is a kind man who wants to treat other people kindly, but his constant fumbling makes it difficult to fully respect and sympathize with him. For example, Francis wants to help Priscilla, but leaves her for the whole night to go get drunk with Bradley's homosexual neighbor, during which time she kills herself. The foolishness of Francis's behavior is characteristic of his way and is one of the reasons that he fits the role of the buffoon in the novel.
in-depth analysis of Francis Marloe.
- The sister of Bradley Pearson. Priscilla is a sympathetic, but pitiful woman who spends the majority of the book moaning about the ruined state of her life. Priscilla's life, it appears, is somewhat ruined, since she spent most of it in an unloving marriage. Her painful experience testifies to the difficulties of life as well as the specific difficulties of being a woman. Priscilla's great regret is the abortion that left her unable to have children. Priscilla's sadness helps to establish Bradley's coldness as a character, because, despite her needs, he basically ignores her.
- Bradley Pearson's ex-wife. Christian is a confident, strong woman who has aged but still remains sexually attractive. She has lived in America for the past few years and appears slightly brassy and American. Christian's character is seen entirely through her interaction with Bradley, which is not entirely credible given his previous hatred of her. She, like Rachel, is a woman of power, even though she has aged. Christian is a sympathetic and even admirable character, given the strength of her personality, but at the same time her brassy quality gives her a slightly comic edge.
- Priscilla's husband and Bradley Pearson's brother-in-law. Bradley always has disliked Roger's chummy, non-intellectual style. Roger has done bad things in the past, namely having Priscilla have an abortion and then making her father pay for half of it. Her current affair with Marigold in some ways also seems cruel since he is abandoning his wife, who cannot have children due to the abortion that Roger insisted upon. Still, while Roger has flaws, he is not all bad. Although Priscilla trick him into marrying her, he stayed with her for twenty years, despite their unhappiness. Furthermore, although he did have an affair, he kept it a secret until after she left him; then he asked for a divorce. Generally, the tendency to have an affair during marriage does not appear honorable, but since Roger and Priscilla's marriage was so terrible, his actions actually seem understandable.
- Roger Saxe's mistress who is pregnant with his child. Little is known about Marigold except that she is a dentist. Her name suggests her freshness and youth. Her presence in Roger's life testifies to the terrible state of his marriage. She and Roger also are a couple that mirror Bradley and Julian, since Roger is significantly older that Marigold.
- The editor of the novel. "Loxias" is a pseudonym for Apollo, the Greek god of the Arts. The prophetess Cassandra refers to Apollo as "Loxias" in Aeschylus's The Oresteia.
Loxias is not truly a developed character in the novel, as he only serves to provide a foreword and postscript. His primary role is to alert the readers to the primary theme of the book: the importance of art in articulating truth. Since Apollo is the God of Arts, it seems appropriate that he is the one to supervise a novel that debates its relative merits.
- A friend of Bradley's from work. Little is known about Hartbourne except that Bradley frequently has lunch with him and Christian later marries him.
- Julian's ex-boyfriend. He never appears in the novel. At the end of the novel however, Julian's name has changed to "Julian Belling" signifying that she has married him. His presence merely serves to suggest Julian's youthful approach the art of loving, since it is just after breaking up with him that she decides that is passionately in love with Bradley.