Adam Trask, a settler in the Salinas Valley. He marries Cathy Ames in Connecticut and moves west, where he and their twin sons, Caleb and Aron, are deserted by her.
Cathy Ames, Adam Trask’s innocent-appearing but evil wife. Deserting Adam and their twin sons, Caleb and Aron, she becomes the proprietress of a notorious brothel.
Aron Trask, smugly religious, idealistic twin son of Adam Trask and Cathy Ames. Unable to face the knowledge of his parents’ past, he joins the army and is killed in France.
Caleb Trask, impulsive twin son of Adam Trask and Cathy. Rejected in an effort to help his father, he takes revenge by revealing to his brother Aron the secret of their mother’s identity. He later accepts responsibility for the disillusioned Aron’s death.
Abra Bacon, Aron Trask’s fiancée. Disturbed because she feels unable to live up to Aron’s idealistic image of her, she finally turns to the more realistic Caleb Trask.
Charles Trask, Adam Trask’s half brother.
Samuel Hamilton, an early settler in the Salinas Valley.
Liza Hamilton, Samuel Hamilton’s wife.
Lee, Adam Trask’s wise and good Chinese servant.
Faye, proprietress of a Salinas brothel. Her death is engineered by Cathy Ames as she seeks to gain full control of Faye’s establishment.
Will Hamilton, business partner of Caleb Trask.
Cathy Ames is described by the narrator as a monster. She is consistently evil in her thoughts and actions, manipulating others for her own ends without a trace of conscience. Cold and callous, she seems to be without a single decent feeling. Cathy is the only daughter of a respectable family in Massachusetts. As a young girl she is different from the other children; she is a nonconformist and a liar. At the age of ten she gets two boys punished for indulging in sex play with her, which she initiated; at high school she drives her Latin teacher to suicide. At sixteen she murders her parents by burning down the family home. She then becomes a prostitute, but when she is beaten almost to death by Edwards, she crawls to the Trask farm, where Adam and Charles take her in. After Adam falls in love with her, they marry and move to California. Cathy gives birth to twins but then decides to leave. She shoots Adam in the shoulder and walks out. She becomes a prostitute in Salinas, where she eventually murders the owner, Faye, and inherits the business. She turns it into a nasty establishment, keeping incriminating photographs of her clients, many of whom are prominent citizens, in order to later disgrace them. Caleb makes himself known to her, and later brings Aron to see her as well. After this she deteriorates physically, and even seems to feel some pangs of conscience. She writes her will, leaving everything to Aron, and then commits suicide.
See Cathy Ames
Abra Bacon is the daughter of a dishonest county supervisor in Salinas. In high school she becomes Aron’s girlfriend, and they expect to marry. But Abra is disturbed by their relationship because she thinks Aron has too high an opinion of her purity and does not see her for who she really is. After Aron goes to college, she falls out of love with him and burns his letters. She shifts her affections to Caleb and also gets close to Adam and Lee. Abra is a marked contrast to Cathy; she has goodness, strength, and wisdom.
Mr. Edwards runs a prostitution business in Massachusetts and Connecticut, even though on the surface he lives a respectable life as a married man with two sons. He employs Cathy as a prostitute but then falls in love with her. When he discovers she murdered her parents, he turns on her and beats her almost to death.
Ethel is an old prostitute who thinks she can prove that Kate murdered Faye. She tries to blackmail Kate over the matter, but she dies by drowning before she can profit from her plot.
Faye is the owner of a...
(The entire section is 2,377 words.)