Hannah Kernahans, a strong-willed Irishwoman who seeks to order the world to suit herself. She binds her eldest son to her and, refusing to let him go, uses whatever means she must to hold him. As a young woman, she had been jilted by a suitor who discovered her iron will. She married the suitor’s brother but always claimed that it was she who changed her mind.
Tom Kernahans, Hannah’s son, who is tied to her. He believes that she is always right, always unselfish, and always serving his best interests. When he breaks off with the woman he loves, he fails to realize that he is doing what his mother planned for him to do for her own selfish interests. Nor does he realize that his mother will not let him marry anyone else. Tom is weak, rather than stupid.
Angèle Maury, Hannah’s niece, an actress who is in love with Tom. She is the daughter of the man who jilted Hannah, and the woman fiercely resents the girl. Angèle is torn between her love for Tom, which keeps her in Ireland, and her love for her mother’s country, France, which is threatened by war with Nazi Germany. Tom makes the decision for her, and she returns to France.
Martin Kernahans, Tom’s brother, a self-reliant, widely traveled student. He is also in love with Angèle, who goes to France with him after Tom, thinking Angèle loves his brother, has released her from their engagement. Martin goes to France because he feels a duty to help protect Europe from the Nazis.
Norrie O’Byrne, a woman who loves Tom deeply. She is used by Tom’s mother as bait in getting Tom to break his engagement with Angèle.