Helga Crane

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.

Dr. Anderson

The head of the Naxos Institute when Helga teaches there. Later, Dr. Anderson marries Helga’s friend Anne Grey.

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.

Aunt Katrina Dahl

The white sister of Helga’s late mother who lives in Copenhagen.

Herr Dahl

The white husband of Aunt Katrina.

Axel Olsen

A well-known Danish artist.

Reverend Pleasant Green

A preacher from a small town in Alabama and Helga’s husband at the end of the book.

Mrs. Hayes-Rore

A woman involved in social work and speech-giving. She meets and hires Helga in Chicago.



Uncle Peter Nilssen

A white uncle of Helga’s and her late mother’s brother.

James Vayle

A teacher at Naxos and Helga’s fiancé when the book opens.

Helga’s children

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.

Mr. Darling

The first employer Helga finds in New York, introduced to her by Mrs. Hayes-Rore.

Mrs. Nilssen

The white wife of Uncle Peter who is cold toward Helga and rejects her.

Helen Tavenor

A Harlem hostess.

Fru Fischer

A friend of Aunt Katrina.

Sary Jones

A member of the Reverend Pleasant Green’s congregation.

Miss Hartley

The nurse who cares for Helga after the birth of her fourth child.

Audrey Denney

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.