Sara Louise and Caroline Bradshawe are twins, but they could not be more different in appearance. Sara Louise describes a picture of the two of them when they were a year and a half old - "Caroline is tiny and exquisite, her blonde curls framing a face that is glowing with laughter", while Sara Louise is "hunched there like a fat dark shadow...thumb in mouth, the pudgy hand covering most of (her) face". Both girls have the chickenpox at the same time, but Caroline's face is left unmarked, while Sara Louise bears the scars of the illness all her life. As the girls grow older, Caroline maintains a "sure...easy...light and gold presence", while Sara Louise is "tall and large-boned", "all gray and shadow". Sara Louise is "not ugly or monstrous", but in comparison to her beautiful sister, she is ordinary, "tall and large boned", dark in coloring (Chapters 1 and 2).
McCall Purnell, affectionately known as Call, is "pudgy (and) bespectacled", and as a young teen, has a "nose too large for his small face"; he has "a certain satisfactory ugliness" (Chapters 1 and 2). As a young man, however, Call becomes quite handsome; he is "tall and almost shockingly broad-shouldered and thin-hipped...the sun lighting on...(his) reddish hair...his eyes...bright blue...his nose...mysteriously shrunk to fit his face" (Chapter 16).
Truitt Bradshawe, Sara Louise's father, is a waterman, "large, red-faced, game-legged". Sara Louise's mother Susan, in contrast, is tiny and "elegant" (Chapter 2). Joseph Wojkiewicz, the man Sara Louise eventually marries, is "large and dark" like her own father, and "when he smile(s), he look(s) like the kind of man who would sing to the oysters" (Chapters 19 and 20). Captain Hiram Wallace is an "old man" with "the strong stocky build of a waterman...his hair...(is) white and thick and (hangs) almost halfway down his neck...he (has) a full mustache and beard, both white" (Chapter 4). Auntie Trudy Braxton is a frail old lady, and because of a stroke she has recently suffered, she has "a lopsided, almost simple smile...her hair...white and so thin you could see the pink of her skull shining through". Her hands are described as "tiny claw(s)", and her eyes are "clear (and) childlike" (Chapter 14).