Gabriel Conroy, an unfulfilled teacher and favorite nephew of the Morkan sisters, who live in Dublin, Ireland. A stout, nervous, sensitive man who wears his black hair parted in the middle and glasses with gilt rims, he writes a literary newspaper column and considers himself superior in culture to everyone at the annual Christmastime dance given by his aunts, but he feels like a failure. His after-dinner speech is a sentimental affirmation of traditional Irish character and customs, yet he feels sick of his country. Dutiful but restless, he has insulated himself from life, wears galoshes, and has never been passionately in love. His marriage to Gretta is dull. After the dance, with his wife in their hotel room, he feels a strong desire for her. She weeps and confesses that she is thinking of Michael Furey, a young lover who died for her; then she falls asleep. Gabriel accepts his failure and feels a generous compassion for his wife. Gazing out the window at the falling snow, he identifies himself in humility with all the dead.
Gretta Conroy, Gabriel’s wife, a country girl from western Ireland. She has rich bronze hair and frail shoulders, and she suggests grace and mystery. At the dance, she is moved by a sweet Irish song that reminds her of Michael Furey, leading to the confession to her husband that she once had romance in her life.
Lily, the caretaker’s daughter and housemaid of the Morkan sisters. A pale, slim, growing girl, she makes Gabriel feel like a failure when he cheerfully inquires whether she will be getting married soon to her young man and she replies with great bitterness that men nowadays are merely out for what they can get.
Kate Morkan, an elderly piano teacher who is Gabriel’s aunt and the chief hostess. She is a feeble yet vivacious lady, with old-fashioned braided hair that has not lost its ripe nut color and a face like a shriveled red apple. She fiercely defends the rights of her sister, Julia Morkan, against the pope and is said by Gabriel in his laudatory speech to have too good a heart, though he actually feels trapped by the culture she represents.
Julia Morkan, Kate’s sister, a leading soprano. Gray-haired, dim of mind, and near death, she sings a bridal song with innocence of irony and is excessively praised by Freddy Malins, who is drunk. At the end of the story, she inspires Gabriel’s pity in his meditation on the dead.
Mary Jane, a young organist and piano teacher, the only niece of the Morkan sisters and the main prop of the household. With her aunts, according to Gabriel, she is one of the Three Graces of the Dublin musical world.
Molly Ivors, a friend and a teacher colleague of Gabriel, dedicated to Irish nationalism. A frank, challenging woman with a freckled face, prominent brown eyes, and a brooch on her collar bearing an Irish symbol and motto, she irritates Gabriel by accusing him of being unpatriotic. He sees her as a rude propagandist who represents a new generation that lacks the virtues of the Morkan sisters and Mary Jane. She asserts her independence and leaves the dance early.
Freddy Malins, a houseguest given to drink and indecorum. A man of about forty, with coarse features, protruding lips, disorderly and scanty hair, and a sleepy look, he comes late, is drunk, and laughs excessively but proves himself to be a decent fellow by defending a black singer and by paying back a loan from Gabriel.
Mrs. Malins, Freddy’s mother, who is visiting from Glasgow. An ineffectual old woman with white hair and a stutter, she has made her son take a pledge not to drink.
Mr. Browne, a non-Catholic guest who knows opera. A swarthy man with a stiff, grizzled mustache, he is forward and offensively common.
Bartell D’Arcy, a conceited and second-rate tenor. He begins to sing an Irish song, moving Gretta to recall Michael Furey, who used to sing the same song, but he breaks it off because he has a dreadful cold.
Michael Furey, the romantic passion of Gretta, a Galway boy who died at the age of seventeen. Very delicate and gentle, with big dark eyes, he was poor and employed in the gasworks, but Gretta thoroughly enjoyed his company. When she was about to move away from Galway, he was ill, yet he came and stood in her garden in the rain; he caught his death.