Simcha Meyer Ashkenazi
Simcha Meyer Ashkenazi, the elder of twin brothers. A shrewd schemer, he advances in affluence through successive marriages and unscrupulous dealings. Later, though his fortune is not always spared, he does manage to survive various historical disasters: the trade-union movement, a pogrom against the Jews, World War I, and the Russian revolution.
Jacob Bunim Ashkenazi
Jacob Bunim Ashkenazi, his brother, who is popular and extroverted. His rise in the world results from his ebullience and popularity, and parallels Simcha’s. At last, returning to Poland from Russia with Simcha, whom he has freed from jail by bribery, he is shot by anti-Jewish border guards because, unlike Simcha, he refuses to grovel and repudiate his religion.
Abraham Ashkenazi, their father, greatly respected in his town of Lodz in Poland. After Simcha connives succesfully to take over his father’s position, Abraham counts Simcha among the dead.
Dinah Ashkenazi, Simcha’s wife. In love with Jacob, she is betrothed to Simcha at thirteen. He divorces her to marry a rich widow.
Pearl Ashkenazi, Jacob’s wife, who is too sickly to keep up with her vigorous husband. She divorces him.
Nissan, the son and pupil of a famous rabbi, and Simcha’s fellow student. A reader of secular books, he is betrayed by Simcha and cast out by his father. He becomes a weaver and a revolutionary. Beaten in his capacity as strike leader by Simcha, he avenges himself in Russia after the revolution; his party confiscates Simcha’s property.
Tevyeh, a weaver and a fanatical revolutionary. Simcha has him arrested and exiled along with Nissan.
Gertrude Ashkenazi, the daughter of Dinah and Simcha, and Jacob’s second wife. He marries her because she reminds him of Dinah.
Ignatz Ashkenazi, Simcha’s long-forgotten son. Simcha, returned from Russia and rebuilding his factory, induces Ignatz to come back from France. Simcha suspects darkly that Ignatz’ French wife is not Jewish.
Huntze, the German owner of the biggest steam mill in Lodz. Abraham is Huntze’s general agent until Huntze’s death, after which Huntze’s sons dismiss Abraham and appoint Simcha in his place, to repay a favor.