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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Ivan Ivanovitch: He is the main character and narrator of this short story. He is a fiction writer, although he cannot get his work accepted. He therefore works as a French translator and sometimes writes advertising copy. Recently, he has felt a change come over him, including headaches and a voice that seems to be saying the word "bobok." A friend also tells him his writing style is changing. Worried he might be going mad, he seeks a diversion. He goes to a graveyard for a funeral and overhears a conversation amid the dead.

Ivanovitch wants to write with "decorum" and express ideals in his prose. As a character, he walks a line between madness and wisdom. Despite his stated wish to write with decorum, he ends up trying to publish his journal account of the less than decorous conversation of the dead, apparently his best work of literature thus far. He is torn between his ideals and his pull toward the darker side of life, expressed by his attraction to the graveyard and the depraved conversation of the corpses.

Many of the other named characters in the story are the dead Ivanovitch overhears talking. This cast of characters does not want to give up their vices even after death. They include:

Major-General Pervoyedov is a corrupt old man who even in the grave lusts after young girls.

Avdotya Ignatyevna is an arrogant aristocrat who embraces the idea of abandoning shame. She hates being buried by a mere shopkeeper but she is one who stinks more badly than others from her moral depravity.

Semyon Yevseitch Lebeziatnikov, lower court councillor: He is still impressed by rank and tries to flatter and fawn over those above him. He also tends to know what is going on in the graveyard.

Klinevitch, a baron: He is young, newly arrived, and open about his moral failings. This hardened man proposes that in the few months they have left before they decompose, they abandon all shame, an idea that the others eagerly embrace. He wants them not to lie to one another, saying they should all be "naked."

Katiche Berestoy is a young, blond woman with an evil laugh.

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