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Several of Styron's minor characters represent types more than they do individuals, although Styron does give them individual characteristics which humanize them. Lt. Col. Timothy ("Happy") Halloran is a professional Marine who sports a handlebar mustache, a nonsafety razor, a swagger, and a style that Paul Whitehurst can only envy. Paul realizes that Halloran is a political neanderthal and that he tells rambling, pointless tales about his life in the Marines, but he still remains infatuated by his virile presence. The Dabneys are the Whitehursts' social inferiors, "poor white trash" who cuss and fulminate, keep a slovenly house, make illicit whiskey, and have no desire to aspire to bourgeois gentility. And yet when Shadrach, the ancient slave, returns to Dabney's land to die, Dabney takes him in and sees to it that Shadrach's meager hopes are fulfilled. Likewise an autocrat like Mr. Quigley, who runs the local store and oversees the boys' paper routes, capitulates to Paul when the boy decides he wants to quit his route. All these minor characters flesh out the stories of Paul's remembered youth.

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Paul Whitehurst is a sensitive, solitary soul, dogged by his memories of death and loss, which he cannot shake. He succumbs easily to homesickness aboard the troop ship, admires the dogged persistence of Shadrach who has come home to die and view the Dabneys' millpond one last time, and tries to avoid discord at all times, fleeing into the domain of his own troubled introspection. He devises ways to confront and avoid these darker memories and recognizes the loss of his own innocence in the process.

The Whitehursts provide the background of discord throughout these stories. Adelaide sings beautifully, but the ravages of cancer are slowly destroying her stamina and good will. Jeff believes in traditional values, but his wife's suffering drives him to condemn the palliatives of the Presbyterian minister and his wife, who come to comfort him, and gives rise to his lacerating sense of doubt in a godless universe.

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