Pelle Karlsson, a poor lad who becomes a shoemaker. He becomes interested in the labor movement and the shoemakers’ union, rising to become president of the shoemakers. He and his fellow workers live in difficult times. Pelle finds his livelihood cut off; his wife alienates him by becoming a prostitute in order to feed their two children; and he is unjustly convicted of being a counterfeiter. Pelle studies the labor movement and decides that factories will do away with the shoemaker who works by hand. He and Mr. Brun, a librarian, start a cooperative shoe factory, and Pelle devotes the latter part of his life to urging his fellow workers to seek constitutional means of improving their lot, rather than strikes and violence.
Lasse Karlsson, Pelle’s father, a farmhand. Attracted by higher wages, he migrates to the island of Bornholm. Because he is weak and worn-out, he is the butt of his fellow worker’s jokes.
Rud Pihl, Pelle’s playmate in childhood. The illegitimate son of the farm owner, he lives with his mother in a hut.
Master Andres, a master shoemaker under whom Pelle has his apprenticeship. He is not a difficult master, but he dies before Pelle’s apprenticeship is finished.
Ellen Stolpe, loved by Pelle. She is the daughter of a leader in the stonemasons’ union. She becomes a prostitute during hard times in order to earn a little money to support her family. For this reason, her husband leaves her, but they are reconciled after Pelle completes his six-year prison term.
Mr. Brun, a librarian in whose library Pelle reads up on the labor movement. Brun and Pelle start a cooperative shoe factory that proves quite successful.
Marie Nielsen, a dancer who befriends Pelle.
Sort, a traveling shoemaker with whom Pelle works for a time.