Grange Copeland, the protagonist, a black sharecropper in Georgia. A tall, gaunt man who has worked hard all of his life, Grange is poor, ignorant, and in debt to the white plantation owner. He abuses his wife and son in response to his own powerlessness and eventually abandons them to try his luck in the North. While living in Harlem, he attacks racism, rather than merely reacting to it as he had done in Georgia. He realizes that he cannot succeed in a one-man attack on racial discrimination and returns to Georgia. On his return, he marries his longtime lover, Josie, but treats her badly and tries in vain to keep his son from making the mistakes that he himself has made. Only his granddaughter, Ruth, receives his love, as he tries to make up for past sins. Grange never loses his hatred of white people, but he comes to realize how his hatred has made him weak. He tries to make a life for himself and for Ruth that will enable them to stay free by never depending on whites for anything.
Margaret Copeland, Grange’s first wife and the mother of Brownfield and a bastard son. In the early years of her marriage, Margaret is soft and has sweet breath, and she is as submissive to her husband as a dog. After years of abuse, she becomes hardened and turns to drinking and promiscuity. It is her sexual relationship with the white plantation owner, resulting in the birth of a child, that finally drives Grange away for good. Margaret has never stopped loving Grange, and when he leaves, she kills herself and the baby, leaving fifteen-year-old Brownfield to fend for himself.
Brownfield Copeland, the neglected son of Grange and Margaret. As a baby, he is unattended, unfed, and unchanged all day because both parents work in the fields. He never attends school and envies his cousins up North. Abandoned by both parents at the age of fifteen, he sets out to find the North but only gets as far...
(The entire section is 820 words.)