Max Meyerhofer (MI-ehr-hoh-fehr), a violent and brutal man given to grandiose but unsuccessful schemes for making money. He loses the family estate and sinks constantly deeper into poverty. He dies of a stroke as he is about to burn Mr. Douglas’ barn.
Frau Elsbeth Meyerhofer
Frau Elsbeth Meyerhofer, his long-suffering wife; after years of patience, her spirit is broken, and she dies a lingering death.
Paul Meyerhofer, their third son, born at the time the estate is lost; he is reared in poverty. His father ridicules him, but his mother is loving. After his father attacks a servant wildly, Paul overpowers him and from that day takes over. By hard work, he becomes a man of substance. Suspecting his father’s intention to burn Mr. Douglas’ barn, he attempts to distract him by setting fire to his own house and barn. Seriously burned, Paul recovers and spends two years in prison. Having lost everything, he feels free from his nemesis, Dame Care.
Mr. Douglas, the new owner of the Meyerhofer estate. Sympathy for Paul causes him to agree to join in one of Max’s schemes. Max becomes violent when Douglas objects to having his name used in borrowing money—but Douglas remains steadfast in his friendship to Paul.
Mrs. Douglas, his wife, a kindhearted woman, fond of Frau Elsbeth. She acts as godmother to Paul.
Elsbeth Douglas, their daughter. Engaged to marry her cousin, she loves Paul. After he is burned, she stays by his bed, and her wedding is called off. When he is released from prison, Elsbeth and the family estate are to be his.
Greta, Paul’s younger twin sisters. Learning that they have been dishonored by his old tormentors the Erdmann boys, Paul forces the Erdmanns at pistol point to swear they will marry the sisters.
Levy (LAY-vee), a sharp trader who dupes Max in a money-making scheme.
Michel (MEE-khehl), a servant. Attacked by Max, he gets revenge by burning the Meyerhofer barn.