Edwina Crane, a supervisor of Protestant mission schools in colonial India. She and her colleague, Mr. Chaudhuri, are attacked on the road by a group of rebellious Indians in the wake of the “Quit India” pronouncement issued by the All India Congress Committee in August, 1942. The pronouncement was made in an effort to force England to leave the country to its own fate. Mr. Chaudhuri is killed, apparently, because he is seen riding in a car with a white woman, and Edwina is attacked when she attempts to defend him. Afterward, Edwina, dressed in a white sari, immolates herself in imitation of the traditional Indian practice of suttee, in which a widow follows her husband even in death by being burned alive.
Daphne Manners, the niece of a former British colonial governor. She is staying in Mayapore at the home of a family friend, Lily Chatterjee, when she becomes romantically involved with a young Indian man, Hari Kumar. After the two consummate their love one night in the deserted Bibighar Gardens, they are set upon by a group of Indian ruffians who rape Daphne and beat Hari. Afterward, Hari and five other Indian boys are arrested, but Daphne, pregnant with what she believes to be Hari’s child, refuses to give evidence at their trial. She dies in childbirth.
Hari Kumar, an Indian who was reared from the age of two in England, where he attended an elite school, Chillingborough. After his father loses his money and commits suicide, Hari is forced to return to India to live in Mayapore with an aunt. Unable to speak any language other than the king’s English and utterly alienated from his country of origin, Hari is a tragic figure. While he is drunk, he comes to the attention of the district superintendent of police, who later accuses him of raping Daphne Manners. Even though there is no evidence to convict Hari of that crime, he remains in jail as a political subversive.
Ronald Merrick, the district superintendent of police for Mayapore. He is acutely aware of his lower-class British origins. He proposes to the aristocratic Daphne Manners. After she rejects him, he fixates on Hari Kumar, whom he persecutes for what he sees as the latter’s more privileged existence, one he views as not befitting an inherently inferior “black” man.