Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 665
Lewis Eliot, a young lawyer from a working-class family. During an internship year in London, Lewis becomes a close friend of Charles March and a frequent guest in the family home. Lewis’ primary function in the novel is that of observer. Although he is an outsider, Lewis earns the trust of all the members of Charles’s immediate family and becomes their confidant. Lewis sometimes tries to play a more active role in the lives of the Marches, but he fails in his attempt to avert the scandal that threatens them, and he also fails to effect desired reconciliations, first between Charles and his father, then later between Charles and his sister Katherine. Lewis, however, remains friendly with all the members of the family.
Charles March, a young lawyer from a wealthy Jewish family. Although he performs well in his first case, Charles decides to leave his profession, which he believes will restrict him to the company of wealthy Jews. Ironically, it is a Jewish girl, Ann Simon, with whom he falls in love and eventually marries. Once Charles realizes that the source of his unhappiness is not his Jewish background but the guilt he feels because of his sadistic impulses, he can proceed with his life. He marries Ann and, despite his father’s disapproval, becomes a doctor. His loyalty to Ann causes his father to reject him and costs him his inheritance, but he finds happiness with her and fulfillment in service to others.
Leonard March, Charles’s father, a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful Jewish families in England. Although he is friendly toward the friends his children bring home, even Gentiles from a mediocre background such as Lewis, Leonard expects his children to marry within their circle and to make him proud of them. He is disappointed when Katherine marries a Gentile, but he is furious when Charles, who he admits is his favorite, not only leaves the law but also marries a girl who, though Jewish, is a Communist, and then, at her suggestion, becomes a doctor. Leonard attempts to bend Charles to his will by exerting emotional pressure and by threatening to withdraw financial support. When he has to make good his threats, Leonard loses his son.
Katherine March, Charles’s vivacious younger sister. Like her brother, Katherine is determined to break out of the narrow circle within which Leonard has confined his children. She is also intimidated by her father. For that reason, she conceals the seriousness of her relationship with a Gentile, Francis Getliffe, until the two are engaged. To Katherine’s surprise, Leonard’s reaction is fairly mild, and he is soon planning the wedding. When the family is threatened with scandal, both Katherine and Francis side with Leonard against Charles and Ann. Their third child is named for Leonard.
Ann Simon, a doctor’s daughter and a committed Communist who works with a radical, antigovernment newspaper. Because of her political views and her influence over Charles, Leonard loathes Ann and opposes his son’s marriage to her. When she contracts pneumonia, Leonard hopes that she will die. Ann loves Charles so much that she would do anything for him. She offers him a chance to destroy the newspaper and thereby end the threat to the family, but Charles refuses to do so.
Francis Getliffe, a scientist and a member of the Cambridge University faculty. An easygoing man and a traditionalist, he soon seems more at home in the March family than does Charles. He supports Leonard’s belief that Charles should put the good of the family first.
Sir Philip March
Sir Philip March, Leonard’s brother and the head of the March family. After becoming a parliamentary secretary, he is accused of making money from his inside knowledge of government policies. Although he is innocent, he is forced out of his office and loses his hopes for a ministry.