The Narrator -
As a boy, he joined the group that went to the woods to see the old woman’s body. Many years later, the narrator suddenly remembers the event and begins to narrate the story of the old woman’s life and death. Though he finds it difficult to articulate why, he feels compelled to retell this childhood tale. In the intervening years, the narrator has had several experiences that echo certain incidents in the old woman’s life.
The Old Woman (Mrs. Grimes) -
An old, sickly woman who lived on a farm near the narrator’s childhood town. The old woman had a history of poor treatment. As a young orphan, she was legally bound to a German couple who abused her, and as an adult she lived in poverty on a small, remote farm with a husband and son who treated her just as poorly. The old woman bore her trials with a silent stoicism before dying in the woods in the company of a pack of dogs.
Jake Grimes -
The old woman’s husband. A rough, brutal man, Jake Grimes was a mean drunk who was distrusted and disliked in town. He was rumored to be a horse thief, but had never been caught. Like his wife, Jake Grimes spoke very little in the story, although his silence suggested menace rather than forbearance.
The Grimes’s Son -
The old woman and Jake Grimes’s twenty-one-year-old son. Unnamed in the story, the Grimes’s son inherited his father’s violent, brutish ways.
The Grimes’s Daughter -
The old woman and Jake Grimes’s daughter, who died before the story’s events took place.
The German and His Wife -
A couple to whom the young Mrs. Grimes was bound as an indentured servant. On several occasions, the German attempted to sexually assault the young girl, but he was always foiled by the wife’s return. The wife, in turn, suspected the girl of being involved with her husband and harassed her because of it.
The Butcher -
A man who took pity on the old woman on the day she died. The butcher gave her a liver and some dog bones for free. Angry at the husband and son who mistreated her so blatantly, he instructed her to not give them any of the meat.
The Hunter -
A country fellow who discovered the woman in the woods a day or two after she died. Too frightened to look closely at the corpse, the hunter hurried into town and brought a group of men—including the narrator and his brother—to see what he thought was the body of a beautiful young girl.
The Narrator’s Brother -
A newsboy who abandoned his paper route to go see the body in the woods.
The Town Marshal -
A large man with a Civil War injury who took charge of the party of men.
Tom Whitehead -
The owner of the livery barn where several townsmen (including the narrator) encountered Jake Grimes.