Mama, or Mrs. Johnson, has done her best to raise two daughters, despite her poverty. She has helped her bright, capable daughter Dee get a college education and has sheltered shy, slower-witted Maggie since the house fire that disfigured her. Mama sees her own and her daughters' weaknesses clearly and states them honestly. Her enduring faith guides her life. Mama's attitude toward her daughters changes over the course of the story. While she has always admired Dee's intelligence and ambition, she realizes Dee does not value her heritage in the same way Maggie does. When Maggie offers to give up the quilts, Mama recognizes her generous nature and gains a new appreciation for her meek, dutiful daughter, choosing to reward Maggie's strength of character rather than giving in to Dee's intimidating tactics. Mama's decision shows her moral strength and values.
Dee has never been like the other women in her family. From her youth she has desired more for herself than the simple, rural existence in which she grew up. Through her ambition, intelligence, and gumption, Dee has become a modern, educated woman, very much of her time and far removed from her family's rural poverty. She renames herself Wangero, a gesture of pride in her distant African heritage and one that separates her from the oppression her ancestors faced in the American South. She looks down on how Mama and Maggie live, seeing no value in continuing the old ways, and urges Maggie to make something of herself. Dee can neither relate to their values nor understand how they can be content to live as they still do.
Burned in a house fire as a child and permanently scarred, Maggie suffers from crippling shyness and lack of confidence. She works hard and lives a quiet, protected life at home with Mama, though she is engaged to marry a local man. Mama describes her as walking like a lame animal, with shuffling movements and her chin on her chest. Maggie has always moved in her sister's shadow and regards her older sibling with "envy and awe." Dee is smarter, prettier, more stylish, and seems to get everything she wants effortlessly, while Maggie is ignored or disregarded. Maggie's subservient, self-sacrificing nature comes through, though, when she offers the coveted quilts to her sister. Keeping her relationship with Dee peaceful means more to Maggie than mementos, thus demonstrating more depth of character than Dee, who values things over people.
Hakim-a-barber seems well meaning and friendly toward Mama and Maggie but has little in common with Dee's family. Hakim, who follows Islamic traditions, greets the Johnsons in a language they do not understand and refuses to eat the greens and pork that are served for dinner. He is presented as a modern-thinking man with little interest in a rural way of life, stating for Maggie and Mama, "farming and raising cattle is not my style." His role in the story is primarily to support Dee in her new identity.