A Painted House

by John Grisham

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The protagonist and main character in A Painted House is Luke Chandler. Luke is roughly inspired by the childhood of John Grisham himself. Luke is seven years old and lives with his family on their cotton farm. When the story starts out, Luke is a typical boy from the countryside with a naive worldview common for children his age. However, as the story progresses, Luke witnesses the dark side of human behavior and gets wrapped up in deadly secrets he wants no part of.

Luke's grandfather Eli Chandler, or Pappy, is the respected patriarch of the family. A veteran of World War I, Eli works as hard in the fields as any worker does. His opinion is held in high regard by both the members of his family and other people of the community.

Kathleen Chandler, Luke's mother, is a fish out of water in this rural community of Black Oak. She was raised with more wealth and privilege than her current life affords and therefore frequently imagines what it would be like to live in the comforts of the suburbs with modern amenities.

Ruth Chandler, or Gran, is Luke's grandmother and mostly keeps to herself, but does dispense words of wisdom to her family. She spends much of her time alone praying for her son to return safely from the war.

Luke's father, Jesse Chandler, never fully recovered from injuries he sustained in World War II. Despite this, he works hard on the family farm in his struggle to pay off the family's debt.

Hank Spruill, the leader of the "hill people", is the closest thing we have to a true villain in this story. Irascible and violent, he is quick to physically attack anyone who he feels stands in his way or shows him disrespect. The entire Chandler family lives in fear of Hank's temper.

Trot Spruill is the youngest of the Spruill family. He is also one of the only "hill people" to be helpful to the Chandlers, particularly in the end when it comes to painting their house. He suffers from a crippled arm and slower than normal mental faculties.

Tally Spruill is the seventeen-year-old member of the Spruill clan. She is also the object of young Luke's affection. She leads Luke into a number of situations which he is too young for, such as witnessing her bathe naked and watching the birth of a child. After she gets involved with Cowboy, the two run away together.

Cowboy is one of the Mexican migrant farmhands that comes to the Chandler farm this season. He is an intimidating man who carries a knife with him at all times and is quick to fight when challenged, usually by Hank. We eventually see how murderous and threatening Cowboy can be.

There are a number of less central characters who are also worth a mention. These include Libby Latcher, the teenager who claims to be pregnant with the child of Luke's uncle. There is also Dewayne, Luke's good friend. We also meet Luke's uncle Jimmy wants to help the family move up North and his arrogant wife Stacy. There are some colorful characters as well, like Reverand Akers, the fire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher and the-good-for-nothing Sherrif Stick Powers.

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