Emilio Ratti (RAHT-tee), a young Italian schoolmaster. He learns the tribulations of teaching school in a small community. Badgered by the pupils and the patrons of his schools, he finds that everyone—even the priests—seems to use the teachers as scapegoats. After several years of teaching in rural communities, he passes the examination that permits him to obtain a much better teaching position in the city of Turin.
Faustina Galli (fah-ews-TEE-nah GAHL-lee), a pretty young schoolteacher loved by Emilio Ratti. She learns that she is regarded as fair game by petty village officials who solicit her favors with cajolery and threats. She cannot return Emilio Ratti’s love because she has the responsibility of caring for a crippled father. Like Ratti, she is a devoted and successful teacher.
Professor Megari (meh-GAH-ree), one of Emilio Ratti’s professors at the normal school. At the request of Emilio’s dying mother, the professor encourages the young man and, at one point, saves him from drunkenness.
Giovanni Labaccio (jee-oh-VAHN-nee lah-BAHK-kee-oh), an insinuating young man who tries to please everyone. He marries a rich widow and thus escapes from the drudgery of teaching. Although he marries the widow, an older woman, only for her money, he reviles his former fellow teachers as persons interested in money and advancement, rather than teaching.
Carlo Lerica (leh-REE-kah), a former corporal of grenadiers who turns to teaching school as a better life than that of an enlisted man in the Italian army. Like Emilio Ratti, he becomes a good schoolteacher.