The major characters in the story are:
Mama, the narrator. Mama is the mother of two daughters, and the story is told from her perspective. She is the most important voice in it, because it is her understanding of the situation that we see. A black woman in middle age, Mama is large, "big boned," and physically strong, able to kill a hog on her own. She knows she is darker and fatter than her elder daughter, Dee, would like her to be; however, she is very confident in herself. Her primary concerns seem to be for her younger daughter, Maggie.
Maggie, the younger of the two daughters, is a "nervous" and retiring girl who has always lived in the shadow of her sister. She is being courted by a boy she will almost certainly marry, and she speaks little and is plainer and less educated than her elder sister.
Dee, the older daughter, is an interesting character. She is a forceful personality—her mother thinks she once burned down the house they lived in because she hated it so much. She imposes her views upon her family, believing that black people today should embrace their true heritage and reject their recent past. Clever and well-dressed, she wants nice things for herself. She wants to take quilts to hang on the wall as a symbol of this. She has changed her name to Wangero.
Minor characters in the story include:
Asalamalakim/Hakimabarber, a "short, stocky" man Dee brings with her when she comes to visit her mother and sister.
John Thomas, the boy Maggie is going to marry.
Grandma Dee and Aunt Dicie, Mama's relatives who contributed to making the quilts in the story.