Arne, the illegitimate son of Margit and Nils. As he grows up, Arne is weaned away from his mother by his father. After the father’s death, he takes up drinking, as had his father. He becomes a carpenter and also interests himself in Norwegian folklore and music. Falling in love with Eli, the daughter of his father’s enemy, he marries her, thus ending a feud of many years’ standing.
Nils, a tailor who fiddles for country dances. He is also a drunkard. He suffers a broken back in a fight with Baard Böen and is nursed by Arne’s mother, whom he later marries. A gloomy, frustrated, morose man, he finally dies in drunken violence.
Margit, Arne’s thrifty, solid, peasant mother. She hopes her son will not turn out like his father. She is pleased when the young man marries Eli Böen. Before the marriage, she shows the girl the treasures she has accumulated for her son and his bride. She believes Eli can save Arne from a dissolute and wasted life.
Eli Böen, daughter of Baard Böen, Nils’ enemy. She falls in love with Arne and marries him.
Baard Böen, Nils’ enemy, with whom Nils has the fight in which his back is broken. Years later, Baard tries to explain what happened. He finds, trying to tell Arne, that he cannot clearly recollect the cause of the quarrel that resulted in lifelong enmity.
Kristian, Arne’s friend who has gone to America. He writes to Arne in hopes that Arne can be persuaded to join him in America.