Konrad, an eccentric scientist who is working on the definitive scientific treatise on the sense of hearing. He is a highly intelligent and sensitive man in late middle age. Konrad lives in an abandoned lime works in Upper Austria with his handicapped wife. He subjects her to endless experiments in which he forces her to make ever more subtle aural discriminations. She torments him by constantly making requests that interrupt his train of thought. He is obsessed with writing his great work, which he claims to have worked out in his head, but remains unable to put anything down on paper. One day, he loses his mind and kills his wife with the rifle that is strapped to her wheelchair. He is found by the police several days later, nearly frozen and cowering in a manure pit. He is awaiting trial for her murder.
Konrad’s wife, a woman who is handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. In late middle age, she is forced to serve as a subject in her husband’s ongoing experiments on the sense of hearing.
The narrator, an unnamed local insurance salesman who is gathering information on the Konrad couple. He interviews the local people and the police, but much of what he gathers as evidence is merely hearsay and rumor.
Wieser, two local estate managers who provide much of the information concerning the Konrads to the narrator. They often report what they have heard from others.