Caroline (Carrie) Meeber, the protagonist of the novel, travels to Chicago to stay with her sister and her brother-in-law. The cosmopolitan consumer world of Chicago enthralls her, and she constantly wants to buy things. Her first job is a low-paid, arduous position in a factory. When she loses her job, her sister and brother-in-law cannot support her, so she becomes Charlie Drouet's mistress. Afterward, she becomes infatuated with another man, George Hurstwood. Carrie and Hurstwood run to New York, where they discover that married life is far less exciting than their affair. Carrie leaves Hurstwood because he fails to provide her with the lavish life she wants. She becomes a famous, high-paid actress in New York City.
Charlie Drouet is a charming, flashy salesman with a strong appetite for romance. Although he is warm-hearted, he never takes any of his romantic affairs seriously. He provides Carrie with a place to stay after she is forced to stop living with her sister; he also promises to marry her, but he never really intends on following through. He loses Carrie to Hurstwood and then, years later, after she has become a famous actress, tries unsuccessfully to win her back.
George Hurstwood is the manager of Fitzgerald and Moy's, a saloon in Chicago. At the beginning of the novel, he is a wealthy, important man. He falls in love with Carrie after meeting her through Drouet. He tells Carrie that he loves her, but he fails to mention that he is married. After his wife discovers his affair with Carrie and files for divorce, he steals ten thousand dollars from Fitzgerald and Moy's and flees with Carrie to Montreal. There, he marries her before his divorce with Julia is complete. Although he keeps his theft a secret from Carrie, he is discovered by an investigator and required to return most of the money in order to protect his reputation. In New York, Hurstwood slowly descends into apathy and poverty. After Carrie leaves him, he becomes a homeless beggar and eventually commits suicide.
George Hurstwood, Jr., is Hurstwood's son. He works for a real estate firm. After his mother sues his father for divorce, he refuses to have anything to do with Hurstwood.
Jessica is Hurstwood's daughter. She is a vain girl who hopes to enter elite social circles by marrying rich.
Julia Hurstwood is Hurstwood's first wife. She is vindictive and extremely jealous, and she files for divorce after discovering Hurstwood's infatuation with Carrie.
Fitzgerald and Moy are joint owners of a popular saloon in Chicago. The saloon is named, appropriately enough, Fitzgerald and Moy's, and it serves as a gathering place for Chicago's glitterati. Fitzgerald and Moy are good to Hurstwood, the saloon's manager, first providing him with gainful employment and then choosing not to prosecute when he steals thousands of dollars from them.
Hanson and his wife Minnie are Carrie's first hosts in Chicago. Hanson is a quiet, stern man who disapproves of Carrie's whimsical nature.
Minnie is Carrie's older sister. She and her husband, Hanson, believe in hard work and frugal spending, mostly because they are too poor to do otherwise.
Mr. Hale, a theater manager, is Carrie and Drouet's neighbor in Chicago.
Mrs. Hale is one of Carrie's friends in Chicago. She fills Carrie in on all of the gossip surrounding the Chicago theater scene, strengthening Carrie's fascination with the theater and the wealth associated with it.
Mrs. Vance is, for a time, Carrie's neighbor in New York City. She and Carrie become friends, and Carrie notices that she is a wealthy, well-kept wife. She is the catalyst for Carrie's dissatisfaction with Hurstwood's modest income.
Mr. Ames is a New Yorker and a cousin of the Vances; Carrie becomes infatuated with him. She thinks of him as a scholar of sorts, and he represents for her the artistic taste she wishes to acquire.
Lola befriends Carrie in New York because they work as chorus girls in the same show. Carrie moves in with her after leaving Hurstwood.
The captain is a homeless man who lives in New York. Every day, other homeless men gather around him, and he asks passing pedestrians to donate the price of a bed for the night for each man. He persists in his effort until every man has a place to sleep.