Aziz is a young Muslim doctor who works under the British at the hospital in Chandrapore. He is a widower with three children who are being cared for by a relative, and he lives simply to save money for them. Aziz is emotional, sensitive, charming, and proud. At the beginning of the book, he generally treats the British with a slightly bitter amusement, although he is willing to befriend open-minded British people such as Mrs. Moore and Mr. Fielding. He sometimes calls himself a "true Oriental" because he loves poetry, values hospitality, and trusts in human connection rather than what the British call logic. But his life changes completely after Adela Quested accuses him of assaulting her in the caves. After his trial, Aziz believes India must kick out the British and become an independent nation.
Adela Quested is a young upper-middle-class Englishwoman who comes to India to visit Ronny Heaslop, accompanied by his mother, Mrs. Moore. Adela knew Ronny in London, and she is considering whether to marry him and live in India. She hopes to get to know "the real India" during her visit. Adela is intelligent but naïve, idealistic, and repressed. She tends to think rather than feel—which is typical of the English in this novel—and she puts a high value on honesty. During an unsettling event at the Marabar Caves, Adela loses her sense of what is real. The experience humbles her.
Mrs. Moore is a kind, open-hearted older Englishwoman. She and Adela Quested are visiting Mrs. Moore's son, Ronny Heaslop, in India. In addition to Ronny, her son from her first marriage, Mrs. Moore has two children, Stella and Ralph Moore, from her second marriage. Mrs. Moore befriends Aziz, who is struck by her gift of emotional connection. Like Adela she wants to see the "real India," but she becomes overwhelmed by the mystical power of an echo in the Marabar Caves; after this she loses interest in life, leaves India, and dies on her way home. However, she becomes a symbol of hope for the Indians as "Esmiss Esmoor."
Cyril Fielding, principal of Government College in Chandrapore, is a well-traveled Englishman who came to India in his 40s. His life experiences, including a broken heart, have led him to believe in "traveling light," sticking up for the underdog, and treating Indians with respect. As an educator, he doesn't feel he must maintain a distance from the Indians, unlike Ronny and other administrators. Fielding becomes good friends with Hamidullah and especially Aziz. The men's desire for friendship—despite the divide between the British and the Indians—is one of the novel's central conflicts. After Aziz's trial Fielding goes back to England, gets married, and no longer "travels light." When he returns to India, he has changed. Although he still craves friendship with Aziz, he is an administrator and believes India will "go to seed" without Britain's guiding hand.
Ronny Heaslop is Mrs. Moore's son and the Chandrapore City Magistrate. He and Adela Quested become engaged during her trip to India. When he lived in England, Ronny was a student at London University; he loved playing the viola and taking long walks with Adela. After coming to India he tried to be friends with Mahmoud Ali, but it ended badly. Now, because of his role as an administrator, Ronny believes the British can't be close to the Indians; he feels the British role is not to be pleasant but rather to keep control of the Indians and not show weakness.
Professor Godbole is an elderly man who works with Mr. Fielding at Government College. He has a deeply spiritual attitude toward life, informed by his Hindu background; both the English and Muslims find this attitude very mysterious. Godbole feels a spiritual connection to Mrs. Moore. After Aziz's trial Professor Godbole becomes the Minister of Education in the independent state of Mau and helps Aziz get a job there as well.
Hamidullah is a middle-aged Cambridge-trained lawyer who is a relative of Dr. Aziz and friend of Dr. Fielding. A subtle, intelligent, and pleasant man, he has fond memories of how English people behaved when he lived in England, but he is disillusioned with their behavior in India. When Dr. Aziz gets in trouble, Hamidullah brings in the Indian Nationalist lawyer Amritrao despite Fielding's disapproval. Yet he also allows Fielding to stay with him while Adela lives at Government College after the trial. Hamidullah dislikes getting involved in nationalist politics, but he believes Indians will never be free until the English leave.