Charlotte Douglas, the protagonist. She is an attractive, upper-middle-class woman aged forty who was born in Hollister, California. She is a Westerner, like many of Didion’s characters. She spent two years at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met and married Warren Bogart, a nontenured English instructor. He is the father of her older daughter, Marin. After a divorce, she married her second husband, Leonard Douglas. She has a second daughter late in life. The baby is born with severe health problems and dies on the journey to Boca Grande.
Grace Strasser-Mendana, the narrator. She is a sixty-three-year-old anthropologist who has married into one of Boca Grande’s few solvent families. Her husband’s death left her in control of most of the arable land and thus in virtual control of decisions affecting the country. She is dying of pancreatic cancer.
Leonard Douglas, Charlotte’s second and current husband. He is a prominent San Francisco attorney who specializes in defending radical causes. She leaves him to travel with her first husband, who seems to need her more than does the calm and self-assured Leonard.
Warren Bogart, Charlotte’s first husband. He is a charming and sadistic former English instructor whom Charlotte marries, has a child with, and divorces. He is dying and needs Charlotte, so she travels with him to New Orleans.
Marin Bogart, the daughter of Charlotte and Warren Bogart. Although a minor character in the novel, she plays an important role in her mother’s story by deeply affecting her mother’s emotional life. Marin comes from a relatively conventional, upper-middle-class background and appears to be a rather ordinary teenager. She is strongly reminiscent of Patricia Hearst of the time period of the novel.