Marianne Sheridan

A student and one of the novel’s two protagonists. Marianne is highly intelligent but unpopular at school. She uses her wit and intellect to keep others at a distance. Marianne is from a rich and abusive family. She mostly feels alone and is surprised when Connell, her classmate and the son of the woman who cleans her family’s house, is interested in her. Marianne reinvents herself at Trinity College, where she studies History and Politics, and she becomes popular but later suffers depression. Because of her lack of self-worth, she seeks out sadistic relationships with men.

Connell Waldron

A student and one of the novel’s two protagonists. Connell is one of the most popular students at school and is reserved and shy. He is from a working-class family and doesn’t know who his father is. Connell is a star football player and good student, and he cares greatly about maintaining his reputation. He enjoys spending time with Marianne but won’t talk to her in public. At Trinity College, he studies English and earns top grades but suffers loneliness and depression. 

Lorraine Waldron

A house cleaner and Connell’s mother. Lorraine is kind and caring but doesn’t hesitate to hold her son to high moral standards. She gave birth to Connell as a teenager and raised him on her own. Lorraine and Connell have a close but casual relationship. She works as the Sheridans’ house cleaner.

Alan Sheridan

Marianne’s older brother. Alan still lives with his mother and is verbally and physically abusive to Marianne. He is insecure and socially awkward, and he tries hard to be well-liked. Alan has anger issues and is secretively cruel.

Denise Sheridan

A lawyer and Marianne’s mother. Denise is a rich and successful widow. She is a detached mother and is rarely home. Denise overlooks Alan’s abusive behavior and unfairly criticizes Marianne.


A History and Politics student at Trinity College. Joanna is Marianne’s closest friend. She is sweet, serious, and funny. Joanna is a supportive person in Marianne’s life and remains at Marianne’s side through difficult times. 


A wealthy and entitled student at Trinity College and one of Marianne’s college boyfriends. Jamie is condescending, judgmental, and self-assured. He doesn’t like Connell, and is classist and racist. Jamie enjoys beating up Marianne during sex. He spreads rumors about her after their breakup.


A History and Politics student at Trinity College. Peggy is entitled and accepts expensive gifts from men. Her greatest aspiration in life is to marry a Russian oligarch. Peggy claims to be Marianne’s best friend, but she is often critical, overbearing, and fickle. 


A student at Trinity College and Connell’s flatmate. Niall is kind and is not like the other entitled students at Trinity. He looks out for Connell and encourages him to seek help for his mental health issues. 

Helen Brophy

A Medicine student at Trinity College. Helen is Connell’s first adult girlfriend. She is social and mostly sweet, but she is jealous of Marianne and sometimes says cruel things about her. Helen is important to Connell because she makes him feel normal.

Rachel Moran

A secondary school classmate of Connell and Marianne. Rachel is the most popular girl in school and is especially mean to Marianne. She has a crush on Connell, but he is not interested in Rachel in a romantic way. Rachel is Connell’s date for the end-of-year dance.


A secondary school classmate of Connell and Marianne. Karen is friends with all of the other popular students and is one of the few who is kind to Marianne. 


A secondary school classmate of Connell and Marianne. Eric is one of Connell’s best friends. He bullies Marianne and often makes jokes about her. As an adult, Eric is remorseful for his bad behavior. 

Rob Hegarty

A secondary school classmate of Connell and Marianne. Rob is one of Connell’s friends who bullies Marianne. He is somewhat degrading to his female peers and wants desperately to be well-liked. Rob later suffers from depression and commits suicide.


An artist and photographer Marianne dates while studying in Sweden. Lukas is degrading and enjoys taking provocative pictures of Marianne. Their relationship causes Marianne to become severely depressed. 

Miss Paula Neary

A single Economics teacher at Connell and Marianne’s secondary school. Miss Nearly openly flirts with Connell in class and makes him uncomfortable. When Connell is an adult, Miss Neary tries to take advantage of him. 

Sadie Darcy-O’Shea

An English student at Trinity College. Sadie runs the school’s literary journal and publishes one of Connell’s stories. She also encourages Connell to apply to an MFA Creative Writing program in New York.