The novel's protagonist, a young Native American man. Abel has grown up in Walatowa, New Mexico, under the care of his grandfather, Francisco. Abel has just returned from war, and one of the first things we learn about him is that he is often drunk. He is reserved, not talking unless necessary, and is by nature slow to open up to others. Like many around him at Walatowa, he feels a strong connection to the earth and the landscape around him, and his spiritual upbringing, such as his membership in the Eagle Watchers Society, is firmly grounded in a relationship with the outdoors.

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Abel's grandfather, who affectionately calls Abel "Abelito." The elderly Francisco, a farmer, remembers how different life for the area's Native Americans in 1945 is from how life used to be years ago. As one of the elders, he participates in gatherings of elders in the kiva—a partly-underground ceremonial structure—during important events such as feasts. Francisco has raised Abel and his brother, Vidal, the way his ancestors raised him, telling them the stories of his tribe and the stories of the land around Walatowa. At some point after his youth one of his legs stiffened up because of disease.

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Ben Benally

A Navajo who is from an area known as the Wild Ruins but now lives in Los Angeles. Benally, who believes he is related to Abel somehow, does his best to help Abel adjust to city life in Los Angeles when he first meets him on the job at the factory. The novel's third section, "The Night Chanter," is written primarily from Benally's point of view. The tone of his language paints a picture of Ben as a pragmatic and practical man who is aware of his Indian heritage but aspires to many of the amenities of the modern American lifestyle.

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Angela St. John

A pale, brunette white woman who has recently married and who arrives at the Benevides house at Walatowa for rest and relaxation. Angela, by Abel's standards, is impatient. From her perspective, however, Abel is too silent, and causes her significant irritation. When Abel goes to work at Angela's house to chop firewood, her fascination that she has never seen a man put his whole body into work like Abel does eventually leads to their love affair.


The only daughter of a farmer in Oklahoma who has come to Los Angeles for an education. Milly, who has blond hair, a plain face, and a constant laugh, is now a social worker on Abel's case. Sensitive enough to notice that Abel hates the questions on her social-services surveys, she starts visiting Ben and Abel merely on a social level, which causes Abel to begin to appreciate her. Milly and Abel eventually become lovers, and she nurtures him even when he loses his job and starts drinking heavily.

John Big Bluff Tosamah

The Priest of the Sun is one of two priests in the novel. Tosamah is "shaggy" and "awful-looking," with narrow eyes and a look of both agony and arrogance. He runs the Pan-Indian rescue mission in Los Angeles.

Father Olguin

The priest at the mission in Walatowa. Father Olguin, who is from Mexico, is small, swarthy, has graying hair, and is missing one eye. He is thoughtful of his position as a role model for many people, and has an interest in his priestly predecessors at the mission.

The Albino

An excellent horseman who outdoes Abel and the rest of participants during a contest held for Saint Santiago. The Albino first appears to be a white man to Angela until she notices that he has no pigment to his features at all.


Abel's brother, who dies of a disease in his youth. Vidal and his death figure as important memories in Abel's childhood.

Cristobal Cruz

A squat, oily man with blue-black hair who assists the Priest of the Sun. Cruz, whose English has rural inflections, is very devoted to serving the Priest of the Sun.