Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Florentine is a waitress at a diner who works to support her impoverished family. Florentine dreams of a romantic relationship and a better life away from the poverty she grew up in. She falls in love with Jean, a man who represents, for her, the life she dreams of obtaining. After Jean rapes her and she becomes pregnant, she is forced to give up her lofty hopes for her life and settle for Emmanuel, who will provide an escape from her shame and desperate financial situation.
Jean is a student and machinist who is determined to escape poverty. Like Florentine, he dreams of a better life and has lofty ambitions of living in Westmount, the wealthy district. He has conflicting feelings about Florentine and is both attracted to her and repelled by her. He is arrogant and looks down on Florentine for her impoverished family and the way she acts when they are on their dates. In the end, he rapes Florentine and leaves her pregnant with his child.
Emmanuel is a young soldier, recently enlisted in the military, who moved out of the slums and improved his life. He is idealistic about the war and his reasons for fighting in it. He falls in love with Florentine, but his love is not reciprocated. After Florentine pressures him to propose to her, he does, and they are married before he leaves for the war. Florentine will make him believe that the child she carries is his.
Rose-Anna is Florentine’s mother. She is pregnant with her twelfth child and despairs of the future of her family. She is from the country and dislikes living in the city, and is distraught that her children are so unhealthy compared to their cousins. Like many other families in Saint-Henri, she is desperate to find a new place to live before the price of rent rises and to avoid eviction.
Azarius is Florentine’s father. He can’t seem to hold a job; for example, during the story, he borrows a work truck without permission, gets into an accident, and loses his job. By the end of the book, Azarius has joined the military—both to provide for his family and to avoid the feelings of failure that plague him when he struggles to keep consistent work.
Daniel is the youngest son of the Lacasse family. He develops leukemia and is moved to a hospital in Westmount, the rich part of town which is symbolic of the better life the characters strive for. There is irony in the fact that Daniel only lives in Westmount and finds a happy life because he is dying; it is there that he finally receives toys he has always wanted, like the tin flute.
Eugene is Florentine’s brother. He joins the military and promises to send money home but ultimately doesn’t.