As the protagonist and title-character of the novel, Orlando is the primary interest of the narrator. The narrator is a biographer whose duty it is to tell the facts of Orlando's life as clearly and truthfully as possible. Orlando's thoughts and revelations take up a good portion of the pseudo-biography. Orlando's internal life is to be just as active as his/her external one.

Based upon Woolf's real-life love interest, Vita Sackville-West, Orlando shares many of West's qualities: most significantly, a deep reverence for history and family tradition, and a poetic, brooding nature. In her diary, Virginia Woolf wrote that Orlando was meant to be "Vita, only with a change about from one sex to another."

Orlando's sex change mid-way through the novel plays an important part in his character development. While s/he starts out as a young, wealthy nobleman who takes interest in dallying about the royal court with lovely noblewomen, Orlando ends the novel a deep, reflective woman. The change is reflected in Orlando's writing; what was once overly ornate mythological drama turns into a beautiful, mature epic poem. As Orlando ages, and lives through many ages, and realizes that s/he is composed of hundreds of selves and experiences. All of these experiences and selves combine to form the person s/he is at the present moment. S/he is a part of nature, and thus, not immortal; s/he realizes that this self too, will die. Finally, by maturing and by reaching middle-age, Orlando finds that s/he has gained what s/he was looking for: life and a lover.