The two main characters are Mariam and Laila. Mariam is a more traditional woman, raised ten years or so before Laila. Mariam is also more subservient than Laila, having had little education and a mother who constantly berated her. Laila, on the other hand, even though her mother also spent little time building up her confidence, did have a loving father whose goal in life was to ensure that she was educated. Aziza, the daughter of Laila and Tariq, is portrayed as strong-willed and bright.
The men in this story do not fare quite as well. Laila’s father is honest and intelligent, but he is weak and caves in to his stronger wife. Jalil also caves in to his three wives and does not stand up for Mariam. Rasheed is a brute, and his son Zalmai is portrayed as instinctively taking after him. Tariq, who is wounded and loses a leg in his youth, is both tenderhearted and brave. He is not afraid to admit his love for Laila and works hard to take care of his parents and to rescue Laila.