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The protagonist, a mixed-race woman with a Black father and white mother. Alienated and dissatisfied, Helga is unsure of what she wants or where she belongs in the world.
The head of the Naxos Institute when Helga teaches there. Later, Dr. Anderson marries Helga’s friend Anne Grey.
A widow who befriends Helga in New York. She is generous and committed to the cause of Black rights. Later, she marries Dr. Anderson.
The white sister of Helga’s late mother who lives in Copenhagen.
The white husband of Aunt Katrina.
A well-known Danish artist.
A preacher from a small town in Alabama and Helga’s husband at the end of the book.
A woman involved in social work and speech-giving. She meets and hires Helga in Chicago.
A white uncle of Helga’s and her late mother’s brother.
A teacher at Naxos and Helga’s fiancé when the book opens.
A pair of twin boys, a younger girl, and a fourth child who dies shortly after birth. The children’s names are never mentioned, and they are important to the story mainly for the effects their births have on Helga’s health.
The first employer Helga finds in New York, introduced to her by Mrs. Hayes-Rore.
The white wife of Uncle Peter who is cold toward Helga and rejects her.
A Harlem hostess.
A friend of Aunt Katrina.
A member of the Reverend Pleasant Green’s congregation.
The nurse who cares for Helga after the birth of her fourth child.
A woman from Harlem who is known for giving racially integrated parties and for having both Black and white friends. This character never speaks in the book and is only spoken about by others, whose opinions of her vary widely.