Loyal Ledford is the novel's protagonist. He is mature for his eighteen years when the book begins because of the loss of his family and independence at a young age. War ages him even more rapidly, and when he returns to West Virginia to marry Rachel Ball, he has a fire inside him to eliminate racial injustice. Although the novel begins as his story, his vision eventually takes over the role of protagonist. Rachel, Ledford's wife, is a practical, faithful woman. Even though she knows that life with Ledford will never be easy, she follows him to Marrowbone, raises her children there, and almost effortlessly accepts all that comes her way. The Ledford children are Mary, Willie, and Orb. Mary becomes an avid photographer and possesses her father's keen interest in race relations. She loves Harold Wells but accepts that a relationship with him would cause heartache for them both. Willie is a boxer and has grown up without thinking about skin color. He is a typical teenage boy who often loses his temper and questions his father's authority. Orb is an innocent character who speaks or sees the truth when adults cannot. He has the voice of an angel and endears himself to the Bonecutter brothers and many others who normally do not care for children.
Mack Wells, an African American janitor at the Mann Glass Company, appears early in the novel. He is cautious around Ledford at first but eventually puts his heart into the movement at Marrowbone. His wife, Lizzie, comes from a highly educated family that initially disapproves of the Wells's move to Marrowbone. Eventually Lizzie's parents endorse what she and Mack are doing, and Lizzie's sister even moves out to Marrowbone. Harold is their only child. He is a couple of years older than Mary Ledford, but the two grow up together, strive for the same goal of racial equality, and share a forbidden love.
The Staples Brothers
Don Staples is Ledford's mentor and a civil rights advocate. He leaves his position at the university to help at Marrowbone and pastors the church there. Throughout the novel, he serves as a pacifying figure and encourages Ledford to give up drinking altogether and to swear off violence. His theory is that men are all fools who raise their sons to be fools, and he advises Ledford to raise his sons right so that they can better society instead of greedily gobbling up land from one another. Don's brother, Bob, is a lawyer and aspiring politician. Taylor includes him to represent a well-intentioned man...
(The entire section is 1047 words.)