Troy is the play's protagonist. He had a rough childhood and left home at age 14. He was an excellent baseball player and might have had the skill to play in the major leagues if he hadn't spent his prime years in prison. Troy is bitter about the experience and about what he has lost. In reaction to the deprivation he experienced at his own father's hands, Troy is a hard worker and does all he can to care for his family. He is a responsible breadwinner, bringing his wages home to his wife. To shield his son from heartbreak, Troy refuses to help him achieve his dream of playing college football, which only pushes Cory away from him. Although Troy loves his wife, Rose, he has an affair with Alberta, who becomes pregnant. Troy goes to Alberta to escape the responsibility he feels at home.
Cory does not understand his father, but he does try to please him. When Troy refuses to meet with the college football recruiter, Cory is furious with his father. Ultimately, Cory needs to leave the house in order to make his own way in the world and escape his father's shadow.
Rose is a loving and supportive wife. She goes out of her way to please Troy and gives him wise advice on dealing with other people. Rose is beloved by the other characters, who see her as kind and sensible. After Troy cheats on her, Rose is heartbroken because she has given her all and made sacrifices as his wife. When Troy brings home Raynell, his child with Alberta, Rose agrees to care for her; but she will no longer be a wife to Troy.
Jim Bono is Troy's friend, coworker, and drinking partner. The two men, who met in prison, gather each Friday night after work to drink, share stories, and commiserate. While Bono looks up to Troy, he is ultimately disappointed in him for cheating on Rose, whom he admires.
Because of an injury suffered during battle in World War II, Gabriel is out of touch with reality and believes he is the Archangel Gabriel. Troy used Gabriel's disability payment to buy the house he shares with his wife, his son, and his brother. Gabriel thinks Troy is upset with him for moving out, although Troy insists he is not angry. Though he believes his brother should be free, Troy eventually signs papers to put Gabriel in an institution. When Troy dies, Gabriel prays for his brother to be received in heaven.
Lyons is Troy's son from a previous marriage. He comes by to see Troy most Fridays, looking for money. At the beginning of the play, he asks his father for $10, and Troy eventually gives it to him, though he does not expect it back. Lyons is interested only in music and does not want to get a job like his father's. Ultimately, Lyons does pay Troy. Lyons ends up in jail and loses his wife, Bonnie.
Raynell is Troy's child with his mistress, Alberta. Troy takes Raynell home after Alberta dies in childbirth. Rose agrees to take care of the baby because Raynell is innocent. Ultimately, Rose is happy to have a chance to raise Raynell. Raynell meets Cory, and they share a song Troy taught them.