A deaf-mute who makes a living engraves silver pieces in a jewelry shop. Mr. Singer is tall and thin, with intelligent gray eyes. He almost always keeps his hands thrust deep into his pockets. A diligent worker and a kind person, he is also a good and attentive listener, which makes him very appealing to others.
A deaf-mute who is Singer's best friend. Antonapoulos and Singer live together for more than ten years until Antonapoulos is sent to an insane asylum at the beginning of the story. He is fat, greasy, and lazy, never signing anything with his hands unless he is talking about eating, drinking, or sleeping.
The fourth child in a family of six. Fourteen years old, Mick is tall for her age and very thin, with short blond hair and blue eyes. She is often absorbed in private thoughts and dreams, such as learning to play the piano and traveling in foreign countries. Mick's family is poor and takes on boarders as a way to make money.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mick Kelly.
An aging black doctor who works tirelessly virtually all the time. Dr. Copeland, traveled to the North for an education and then returned to the South out of a feeling of duty to help blacks. He often feels uncontrollable anger about the injustices black people suffer in the South. Dr. Copeland is smart, very fastidious and precise in his manner of speaking and word choice, and somewhat estranged from his family.
The proprietor of the New York Café, a central eating spot in town. Mr. Brannon is a quiet, thoughtful man who enjoys pondering life and wants children of his own. His hair is so dark and thick that he needs to shave twice a day. He has a habit of pressing his nose down with his thumb when he thinks about things.
A heavy-drinking, ranting man who comes into town and frequents Mr. Brannon's café. Jake is a bizarre looking man: short, but with long arms, large hands, and a moustache that appears oddly detached from his somewhat distorted face. He drinks constantly and often goes on long, frustrated rants about socialism. Jake's behavior is extremely volatile and occasionally violent.
Dr. Copeland's daughter, who works as a servant in the Kelly household. Portia is very loving and faithful, and she values her relationships with her family members very highly. She always tries to include her father in these gatherings, even though he is estranged from much of the family. Portia has light honey- colored skin like her mother.
Dr. Copeland's son and Portia's brother, who works in the kitchen at Mr. Brannon's cafe. Willie always carries his trademark harmonica and plays it wherever he goes. He is a sweet young man, but not very bright, and he gets into trouble primarily by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Portia's husband. Highboy is a relatively minor character; we are told little about him save that he is good-natured and wears very loud outfits.
Mick Kelly's younger brother and her favorite in the family. Bubber, whose real name is George, is an intelligent boy who is small for his age. He is a pleasant child until his accident with a BB gun, at which point he undergoes a drastic personality change and becomes much more of a loner than he used to be.
The youngest child in the Kelly family. Ralph is only a baby, and we are told almost nothing about him beyond the fact that Mick often pulls him and Bubber around in a wagon.
Mick's older brother, in his late teens. At the beginning of the novel, Bill is the sibling Mick looks up to the most. Later, however, she realizes that she and Bill are drifting apart, so she becomes much closer to Bubber.
Mick's older sister. Etta, who is obsessed with becoming a movie actress, spends lots of time fussing over her hair, nails, clothing, and accessories. She falls ill toward the end of the novel and has to give up her job.
The eldest child in the Kelly family. Hazel is a plump but attractive young woman who is somewhat lazy. Late in the novel she tells Mick about a job opening at the local Woolworth's store.
Mick's father. Mr. Kelly is a kind man who feels largely useless to his family because an injury prevents him from working as a carpenter any longer. He now runs a small watch-repair business out of the house, but hardly has any customers. Mr. Kelly, who often feels the family ignores him, frequently calls Mick over for trivial reasons just to talk to her.
Mick's mother. Mrs. Kelly is a very minor character, and we are told very little about her.
A boy, several years older than Mick, who lives next door to the Kellys. Harry and Mick become friends after Mick's party, though they later have a sexual encounter that largely ruins their relationship. Harry is Jewish and frequently worries about the Nazi regime in Germany; aside from Biff, Harry is one of the only characters who pays close attention to world events.
Biff Brannon's wife, who passes away at the beginning of Part Two. Alice seems to be generally unpleasant, and Biff does not miss very much after she dies. However, they were in love for a long time at the beginning of their marriage.
Biff Brannon's sister-in-law. Mrs. Wilson has huge ambitions for her daughter, Baby, to be famous; she makes Baby take dance classes and elocution classes and dresses her in little matching outfits. Mrs. Wilson is raising Baby alone, for her former husband, Leroy, used to beat her.
Lucile's daughter. Baby is an obedient and pleasant, although somewhat prissy little girl with blonde curls and blue eyes. She becomes petulant and rude to her mother after her accident in the second half of the novel.
Lucile's ex-husband. Leroy frequently abused Lucile and then bragged about it to other men, prompting Biff to beat him up on one occasion.
A religious fanatic who writes quotes from the Bible on brick walls around town. Simms starts coming to the carnival where Jake Blount works so that he may preach from a soapbox. Jake often makes fun of Simms.
Dr. Copeland's father-in-law. Grandpapa loves to ask Dr. Copeland about remedies for his various aches and pains. He believes that on Judgment Day, God will finally have mercy on black people by making their skin white—an idea that Dr. Copeland finds revolting and humiliating.
Dr. Copeland's two eldest sons. Hamilton and Buddy are estranged from their father, who is disappointed that they have not become the distinguished, well- educated men he had hoped they would.
Dr. Copeland's former wife, who is now deceased. Daisy was a beautiful, gentle woman with honey-colored skin. Though Dr. Copeland tried to get his wife to share his radical political views, she never did, which was often a source of frustration to the doctor.
A black pharmacist friend of Dr. Copeland. Mr. Nicolls urges Jake Blount not to become involved when Willie Copeland gets in trouble.
A black postman friend of Dr. Copeland. Mr. Roberts also urges Jake not to try to defend Willie, as he says it will only lead to trouble.
A young black student to whom Dr. Copeland awards an annual five-dollar prize for a rather militant essay he writes. Lancy is killed in a brawl near the end of the novel.
The stripper over whom Willie gets in the knife fight that lands him in prison. Love, according to Portia, is an ugly, tasteless woman.
The young man with whom Willie gets in the fight over Love Jones.
A black boy who takes over Willie's position in the New York Café after Willie goes to prison.
A fruit vendor who is the cousin and employer of Antonapoulos. At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Parker coldly sends Antonapoulos away to the insane asylum without consulting Singer about the decision first.
A boarder in the Kelly house. Miss Brown often listens to the music of Mozart on her radio, which Mick often tries to overhear.
A neighborhood boy who owns the BB gun with which Bubber Kelly accidentally shoots Baby Wilson. Spareribs and Bubber often play together before the accident.
Jake Blount's employer and the owner of the carnival. Patterson, a very minor character, has red hair and spends most of his time smoking marijuana.
A con artist who passes through town and preys on the black population by selling them false "government pensions." Mason is caught by the police, but not until after he has spent or hidden all his money.