Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Mr. Waythorn: The story, a third-person narrative, is told through the eyes of Mr. Waythorn. We see his wife as he sees her. As his perception of her changes, so does ours. We see nothing that he doesn't see. As for Mr. Waythorn, he is a successful businessman who apparently was born to an upper-class existence, given his snobbery when he realizes Alice probably comes from lower-class roots. Mr. Waythorn is affluent and socially connected. He also starts off naive and innocent and overlooks many red flags about his wife, who has been twice divorced. He prefers to see her as she projects herself, all sweetness and light. He initially sees her as a possession. However, he will grow over the course of the story to have a new perception of his wife, one that will make him become cynical and disillusioned. His name, Waythorn, shows his way to self-knowledge is a thorny and painful one.
Alice Waythorn: Alice, Mr. Waythorn's wife, is pretty: light and slender and shining. She is socially very adept, smooth and unruffled. At first, Mr. Waythorn likes this composure. As time goes on, however, Waythorn begins to learn that Alice lies and has misrepresented her past to him. He begins to realize she is a heartless social climber who married him for status rather than any love or affection for him. Her flawless facade begins to irritate him as covering a morally empty core.
Mr. Haskett: Mr. Haskett was Alice's first husband and is the father of their daughter, Lily. Alice represents Mr. Haskett to Waythorn as a brute. However, when Waythorn meets him, he confronts a timid, kind man who dearly loves his daughter and is protective of her, even making sacrifices to live near her. Waythorn is also ruffled by Haskett's evident lower-class background.
Mr. Gus Varick: Varick, Alice's second husband, is a sleek and polished gourmand, as well as a businessman like Waythorn. Varick tells Waythorn he'd have sold his soul for the money he has now a few years ago when he was broke. This reminds Waythorn of rumors he has heard that Alice divorced Varick over money. Alice seems to prefer Varick to both Haskett and Waythorn, as she shows him the most affection when the three men converge at the end of the story:
"Shall we have tea in here, dear?" she began; and then she caught sight of Varick. Her smile deepened, veiling a slight tremor of surprise. "Why, how do you do?" she said with a distinct note of pleasure.