The primary characters in the story are Roselily and her new husband. The reader sees the world through Roselily's eyes, as she contemplates an uncertain future with her mate. Although Roselily's name implies a fragile, breakable person, there is a sense that Roselily is a strong woman who has already shouldered many burdens and must now prepare to shoulder still more. She is a woman who, after years of backbreaking work, exists in a dream world that offers her an escape from reality. She only scarcely seems involved in the real world, where her involvement is not sought or required anyway. As a woman, she has been taught to be passive, taught that she has no position in her world except as a show piece or a baby-maker. Yet inside, there is a rich texture of thoughts and beliefs that perhaps expresses the inside roiling of many other impoverished and controlled women. While Roselily must remain silent to appease both society and her husband, the subtext of her life becomes ever more clear.
In contrast, Roselily's husband has a decidedly secondary position in the story; he has no face and no name. Perhaps the husband—and all of the men in Roselily's life—remain unnamed so that they can be identified as every man, as a universal problem affecting all women. The husband is in a different world from Roselily. She knows that her husband resents "the respectful way the men turn their heads up in the yard, the women stand waiting and knowledgeable, their children held from mischief by teachings from the wrong God." For him, other ideals, other thoughts, other beliefs usurp the wedding. Roselily is, to be blunt, not important to his world view. The husband's world view is written in the words of fighting, of violence, blame, glares, usurpation—likely indicative of Roselily's upcoming life.
In a way, Walker's writing almost seems to seek vengeance against a society in which, typically, the woman's emotions take second place to the desires and needs of the male. In this case, it is the man whose needs seem less important. Ironically, the only manner in which Roselily seems to feel connected is via her memory, a sort of ancestral memory that transcends her own life. Thus, Roselily is joined with her mother, who is dead, even as she feels alienated from her soon-to-be husband. Roselily's other sense of connection can be found via her grandparents, who are also dead. Roselily senses a kinship with them, believing that it is "the soil giving back what it takes".
The man to whom Roselily is being married is never named. He is a Black Muslim from Chicago, who will take Roselily and her children back with him after the wedding and remake them. He has agreed to a country wedding on Roselily’s front porch, but he looks down on the people of Panther Burn because of their simple ways and their subservience to whites. Roselily wonders whether he also looks down on her.
Roselily is the protagonist of the story, and everything in the story is seen through her eyes. She has lived all her life in Panther Burn, Mississippi, the daughter of poor but hard-working parents. Roselily herself knows what it is to work hard: she is unmarried and raising three children alone on what she earns picking cotton and sewing in a factory. Marrying and moving to Chicago is her best chance to attain respectability at last, and she is willing to take that chance for the sake of her children, even though it means marrying a man she does not love. As she half-listens to her wedding ceremony, she reflects on how she has arrived at this state, and wonders how she will take to the strict confines of life as the wife in a Black Muslim home.