John Gourlay, a Scots merchant. He works hard to become rich and is proud of his house with the green shutters and his other possessions. His pride is insolent; he simply wants more than other people and to be acknowledged as superior. While he works hard, he is also mean, stingy, boastful, and evil. He is ashamed of his weakling son and his slovenly wife. He goes mad and, in his madness, goads his son into murdering him. He dies with no friends and with his wealth all but gone.
Mrs. Gourlay, Gourlay’s wife. She was once a pretty woman, but she has become slatternly, having been denied love by her husband. She lavishes all her affection upon her son, who is her only reason for living. She is both a slattern and a bore. After her son’s death, she commits suicide, knowing she is consumed by cancer.
Janet Gourlay, their daughter. She also commits suicide after her brother’s death.
Young John Gourlay
Young John Gourlay, Gourlay’s weak, cowardly, but boastful son. He is unambitious, and only his father’s influence keeps him in school. His father wants him to become a minister, but he cannot do the required work at college and is finally expelled for drunkenness and insubordination. Tortured at home by his father, he finally kills him with a poker. After the murder, he commits suicide by taking poison.
James Wilson, a man who returns to Gourlay’s village with sufficient money to become the merchant’s competitor. By honest, friendly dealing with his customers he expands his business and drives Gourlay into financial ruin.