Caleb Williams, a naïve, bookish, courageous, and incurably inquisitive secretary puzzled by his employer’s black moods and determined to trace them to their source. Having received Falkland’s confession, Caleb becomes Falkland’s prisoner until he escapes. Accused on a false charge of theft and jailed, he escapes, joins a thieves’ gang, leaves it, is rearrested on a theft charge, and is released when Falkland drops the charge. Relentlessly followed by Gines, Caleb finally makes a public charge of murder against Falkland who, touched by Caleb’s recital of his own miseries, confesses. The remorseful Caleb, feeling that he has saved his own good name only through contributing to Falkland’s death, resolves to live a better life.
Ferdinando Falkland, Caleb’s employer, a wealthy and highly respected squire intensely desirous of keeping his reputation. He is a considerate employer but is subject to uncharacteristic fits of distemper. Formerly a man of graceful manners and warm intelligence, he is secretly embittered by his difficulties with Tyrrel and troubled by his guilt over Tyrrel’s murder. Caleb’s nemesis until his better nature triumphs, Falkland confesses publicly and dies shortly afterward from his long inward torture.
Barnabas Tyrrel, Falkland’s enemy, a proud, jealous, combative man finally murdered by Falkland out of resentment for his cruelties.
Gines, a member of a thieves’ gang and Caleb’s enemy, responsible for his second arrest and the repeated exposure of his imprisonment.
Captain Raymond, the philosophical leader of the thieves’ gang.
Emily Melvile, Tyrrel’s cousin, saved by Falkland from death by fire and later from a forced marriage to Grimes. She finally dies as a result of Tyrrel’s continued cruelties.
Thomas, a servant of Falkland and a former neighbor of Caleb’s father. He helps Caleb escape from prison.
Collins, another of Falkland’s servants. He tells Caleb the story of Falkland’s early life.
Grimes, a clumsy, loutish tenant whom Tyrrel intends as Emily’s husband. When Grimes attempts to seduce Emily, Falkland saves her.