A carpenter and the protagonist of the novel. Adam is strong, intelligent, and fairly well educated for a peasant. He is industrious and loyal. Throughout the story, Adam’s pride forms the central movement of the book. Adam believes that working hard is a way of doing God’s work and is at least as important as religion itself. He hates all evil and does not understand how a man could decide that something is evil and then do it anyway. Adam is admired by his peers, but he is not motivated by their admiration. For him, a job well done is its own reward.
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A Methodist preacher who seeks to bring God’s love to all those around her. Dinah’s gentle demeanor and selfless attitude bring comfort to the other characters, including Hetty in the hours before she is scheduled to die. Dinah’s outer beauty matches her inner calm and draws all the other characters to her. She feels compelled to help those in greatest need, even when it results in the denial of her own happiness. Eventually she comes to believe that her own happiness and God’s will are not necessarily incompatible.
A startlingly beautiful young peasant girl. Her downfall is the primary action of the novel. Hetty is selfish and shallow. Although her humiliation changes her somewhat, even to the end she is more concerned with her own suffering than anyone else’s. Hetty is also foolish. She has no sense of the way the world really is and no appreciation for Mr. and Mrs. Poyser for taking her in and raising her when she was orphaned. Hetty wants everyone to notice her beauty. Hetty is a foil to Dinah’s character.
A young regimental soldier, heir to the Chase. His arrogant belief in his own good character leads him to disgrace Hetty. Captain Donnithorne believes that he is fundamentally a good man, no matter what else happens and even when events show that his evil actions have consequences. He tries to buy his way out of every situation. Even his desire to do good is really a desire to be seen by others as one who does good. Captain Donnithorne cares for Adam, although not enough to tell him the truth about Hetty. Although he loves Hetty, his love is not strong enough to break the class boundaries that separate them.
The rector of Broxton, the confidante of Captain Donnithorne. Mr. Irwine is tolerant and compassionate. Although he is a religious man, he believes that little good is done by chastising people for their wrong-doings. Instead, he teaches patience and gentleness. Mr. Irwine has never married and prefers to live with his mother and two sisters. Although he does not pry into others’ inner lives, he offers sage advice when his advice is sought. He loves Captain Donnithorne like a son and is deeply wounded by Hetty’s disgrace. Mr. Irwine knows the details of the lives of the people in the parish and does his best to encourage what he believes will make them happy.
Adam’s brother, a Methodist carpenter. Seth gives freely of himself, even to the point of giving up his love of Dinah when he believes it is for the good of others. Although Seth is not as intelligent as Adam, he is motivated by love and acts well in all things as a result. Both gentle and kind, he is comparable to Dinah but lacks her education and intelligence. A bit of a dreamer, Seth likes to sit and think rather than do, although he works very hard at his job as well.
A country farmwoman. She has a sharp tongue and a deep love for her family and friends. Mrs. Poyser is an indulgent mother to Totty, her three-year-old daughter. A mother figure to both Hetty and Dinah, she repeatedly warns Hetty against the dangers of vanity. She believes she knows more than most people, stands up to authority when she believes it is wrong, and criticizes freely when she believes others are in error.
A farmer and tenant of the Squire’s. Mr. Poyser is deeply traditional and values his land and good name above all else. A simple man, he cherishes his wife and believes in her wisdom.
The schoolteacher and Adam’s best friend. Unbeknownst to his friends, not only does Mr. Massey care deeply for his students, but he exhibits a patience with them that he seldom shows in the company of friends. Mr. Massey rails against the stupidity of women and says everything twice. During Hetty’s trial, he is a tactful comfort to Adam because he is able to see when it is best not to speak.
The mother of Adam and Seth, the wife of Thias. Lisbeth shrieks at her children, complains incessantly about the wrongs the world does to her, and wishes for death when her husband dies. For all that, she loves Adam and Seth, although she favors Adam over Seth and never spares Seth’s feelings on the subject. She is the first to remark on Adam and Dinah’s love for each other.
A drunkard, the father of Adam and Seth. Thias fell from a straight life sometime before the opening of the novel. Until his death, he is only a burden to his family.
The old, spendthrift landlord of the Chase. He takes no interest in his tenants as people but only as a source income and therefore his comfort.
An old socialite, mother of Mr. Irwine. Mrs. Irwine’s sense of superiority over the peasants leads her to bring misery even when she ostensively seeks to bring happiness. A proud and arrogant woman, she belittles the peasants, believing that they are beneath her because they do not have her wealth.
A carpenter who works with Adam and Seth. Wiry Ben is a simple man, who is uneducated, likes his ale, and can dance very well.
The proprietor of the village inn. Mr. Casson knows everyone’s business and affects great airs of nobility, even in the way he speaks.
Adam’s tailless, faithful dog. Gyp follows Adam everywhere. How other characters treat Gyp is often an indication of how they react to helpless creatures.
The parish clerk who is so proud of his own voice and musical talent that he flaunts them at every turn. He also takes great offense at the coming of Methodists into the parish.
The Methodist wheelwright. Maskery is outspoken and self-righteous.
A Methodist widow from Stoniton. She lets Hetty stay with her when she looks for Captain Donnithorne. She later testifies at Hetty’s trial.
Farm laborer who lives near Stoniton. At Hetty’s trial, he testifies that he saw Hetty one morning and heard a baby crying.