Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 383
The protagonist of the story is Wash Jones. Wash is a poor white man who has spent most of his life squatting in a building on land belonging to a wealthy white landowner. Wash is so poor that even the black slaves who work for Colonel Sutpen think they are better than him; they laugh at his claims that he is "looking after" Sutpen's home while he is away at the war. The relationship between the two is unclear—when Sutpen returns from the war, he and Wash ostensibly run a store together, but really it seems as if Sutpen spends most of his time getting extremely drunk, and Wash spends his time taking Sutpen home, putting him to bed, and taking care of him. The nature of the relationship is unclear—to an extent, Wash seems to care about Sutpen, but he also wants to remain on his good side, as he makes a living from Sutpen.
Colonel Sutpen was a wealthy landowner before he went away to fight in the Civil War against the Yankees. When he returned, his son having been killed in action, he was different. He and Wash are around the same age. Sutpen, after his return, ran a liquor store with Wash but seemed primarily interested in getting drunk and also seducing Wash's granddaughter, Milly, to whom he gave pretty ribbons to be worn around her waist. Wash noticed this, but was willing to turn a blind eye to it on the understanding that it would help him "fix" Sutpen—he thinks Sutpen is an honorable man, or at least enough to marry Milly.
Milly, Wash's granddaughter, allows Sutpen to seduce her and eventually bears him a child, a girl. This girl is born at the beginning of the story on a pallet in Sutpen's barn. At this point, it becomes clear that Sutpen has no intention of marrying Milly, thinking less of her than he does of his horses.
By the end of the story, Wash has recognized this and has killed not only Sutpen, but also his granddaughter and her baby as a mercy killing.
Other characters mentioned in the story include the Sheriff who appears at the end to arrest Wash, the old "Negress" who works for Sutpen, and some other unnamed black slaves.