The protagonist of the novel. Stingo is naïve and self-absorbed but also kind and open-hearted. He is intelligent but unsophisticated and longs to gain more knowledge of the world around him. Stingo is also torn between pride in his identity as a Southerner and an awareness of the terrible legacies of racism and violence that exist in this region.
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A Polish woman who is Nathan’s lover and becomes close to Stingo over the course of the novel. She is seductive and elegant but also inclined to melancholy. Sophie is haunted by guilt, anger, and self-loathing. She is secretive and manages her traumatic past by hiding it away.
A Jewish man who lives in the boarding house with Stingo and is in a romantic relationship with Sophie. Nathan is charismatic, charming, and can be warm and nurturing. He is extremely intelligent and likes to debate. However, Nathan is erratic and can become extremely angry and violent.
Sophie’s father, a law professor. A harsh, repressive, and fiercely anti-Semitic man, he forced Sophie to help him distribute pamphlets advocating for the Nazi cause. He dies in a prison camp after being rounded up by the Nazis with other Polish intellectuals.
A Nazi official who manages the camp at Auschwitz during the time Sophie is imprisoned there. He is a cold and ruthless man who is driven by efficiency and able to ignore the depravity of his actions. He is obsessed with Aryan ideology and desires Sophie because she conforms to Aryan standards of beauty. Hoss is a cowardly man who does not fulfil his promises.
Sophie’s Polish husband. Casimir is passive and falls under the sway of Sophie’s father. He has been cruel to Sophie and they have an unfulfilling marriage. He is killed by Nazis after the German invasion of Poland.
A Southern gentleman who lives on a comfortable income in Virginia. He has a loving and tender relationship with his son but also respects Stingo’s desire for independence. He has a strong respect for tradition and the past but is also liberal in his politics and deplores racism.
The owner of the boarding house where Stingo, Nathan, and Sophie live. She is a no-nonsense woman, but she is also relaxed and free-thinking.
A man who lives at the boarding house with Stingo, Nathan, and Sophie. He is nosy and likes to gossip about what is going on amongst the other tenants. His curiosity and knowledge eventually become useful because he is able to provide information to Stingo.
A young Jewish woman from a wealthy family. Leslie is flirtatious and sexually assertive. However, she is also nervous and neurotic.
A young woman who grows up near Stingo in Virginia and dies by suicide after moving to New York. Maria is melancholy and unable to escape from a familial legacy of unhappiness.
Nathan’s brother, a physician. Larry is loving and protective toward his brother but is also a fairly passive character who often hesitates about how and when to take action.
A Polish prisoner who works as a handyman at Auschwitz and is given privileges because he is a favorite of Hoss. Bronek has a clown-like personality that he uses to disguise that he is intelligent. Bronek is actually a loyalist who wants to undermine the Nazis.
A prisoner who lives at the Hoss household and serves as a governess for the Hoss children. Lotte is kindly but convinces herself that the Jews deserve the treatment they are getting from the Nazis so that she can avoid feeling sympathy for them.
The housekeeper at the Hoss household. She is a devious and aggressive woman who sexually assaults Sophie.
A leader of the Polish Resistance who befriends Sophie and eventually dies at Auschwitz after her resistance activities are revealed. Wanda is passionate and has conviction in her beliefs. She believes that everyone has a moral duty to fight against evil even if there is personal risk involved. Wanda is also intelligent and observant and knows what the consequences of the Nazi regime will be.
Wanda’s brother who is briefly Sophie’s lover. Jozef is committed to resisting the Nazis, but he is also sensitive and distressed by the violence he engages in.
Sophie’s son. Little is known about his personality, but he is caring and good at soothing his younger sister.
Sophie’s daughter. Eva is a joyous young girl with musical talent.
Hoss’s young daughter who confronts Sophie as Sophie is trying to steal a radio. Emi has been brainwashed by the Nazi propaganda she has grown up with, and even though she is a young child, she has no sense of compassion for others.
A close friend to Stingo. Jack is optimistic, talkative, friendly, and encouraging.
Jack Brown’s sister-in-law, a young woman whom Stingo pursues a relationship with. Mary Alice is very religious and conservative in her morality. She does not trust men, and she is unwilling to be seduced by Stingo.