Mendel Singer, a children’s teacher of Hebrew and the Bible. Thirty years old at the beginning of the novel, he is “pious, God-fearing, and ordinary, an entirely commonplace Jew.” When he learns that his fourth child, Menuchim, is physically and mentally retarded, he accepts this as the will of God. When he later finds his daughter Miriam with a Cossack, he fears shame to the family and immigrates with her and his wife to America. Years later, he still dreams longingly of Menuchim, left behind in Russia. Already aged and bent in his early sixties, he loses his remaining family to death and mental illness, and in his anguish he blasphemes God for His cruelty. The appearance of Menuchim, who was long believed dead, restores his faith and gives him hope for his last years.
Deborah, Mendel’s wife. She is unhappy with her husband’s lowly status, his meager earnings, and the hardships of her life with four children. More resolute than he, she believes that God helps those who help themselves. She therefore enables her son Shemariah to escape conscription by having him smuggled across the border. In New York, she is embittered by her pinched circumstances, and she misses Menuchim. After learning that Shemariah has fallen as an American soldier in World War I, she dies of grief.
Jonas, the eldest son. Robust and earthy, he behaves more like a peasant youth...
(The entire section is 592 words.)