Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Rose is the narrator of the story. Through most of it, she is a young girl in the Great Depression, growing up in the poorer part of town where her father and stepmother run a grocery store. At the end of the story, Rose is an adult.
Flo is Rose's stepmother. In the 1930s, she is in her thirties. She is a practical but ignorant woman (she has never heard of Spinoza or the planet Venus), yet she is energetic and clever: she fits together, for instance, a linoleum floor in the kitchen from free linoleum scraps. She is both hard and soft: her black hair is soft, her knees and lap hard. She is also both angry—she manipulates the father into beating Rose—and sentimental, like when she brings Rose nice dinners on a tray afterwards to atone.
Rose's father is a less prominent figure. He knows of Spinoza and quotes Shakespeare's The Tempest but otherwise hides his intellect. He is ashamed of the beating rituals, yet he takes pleasure in them as way to vent his aggressions
Brian is Rose's little half brother. He has almost no role in the story, except as the person Rose tells a dirty ditty (poem) to about Vancouver, inciting a beating. He runs away to hide when the beating is about to happen.
Becky Tyde is a small, twisted woman with polio. She has no living mother. Her father beat her, and it is believed that he also raped and impregnated her, killing the baby she had.
Robert Tyde is Becky's butcher brother, who is very timid and runs away from violence, just as Rose's brother does.
Becky's father is called old man Tyde. He is beaten so badly by young men in the neighborhood because of the incest rumors that he dies, freeing Becky and her brother and leaving them with money.
Jelly Smith, Bob Temple, and Hat Nettleton are the young men who decide to beat old man Tyde. Nettleton will appear near the end of the story as a 102-year-old man being interviewed from a nursing home (a nursing home that also houses the elderly Flo) about the past.