John is a 14-year-old boy with great potential, according to his family, his teachers, and church members. He wants a life free from his stepfather's domination, yet he also wants to find the lightness and freedom offered through communion with God. He struggles with his conflicting desires to please his stepfather and yet be different from him.
Gabriel's past is not without sin, but after his conversion to Christianity he becomes a minister and holds everyone to the standard of religious perfection. He lacks the self-awareness to see the hypocrisy in his punishment of those around him for their sins while he denies his own past mistakes and current lack of compassion for others.
Elizabeth is bullied by her husband, but she tries to show love and kindness to all of her children. Even though she had John out of wedlock before meeting Gabriel, she loves her son and wants him to grow up to be a good man.
Florence has been driven by a desire for a life different from her mother's life of poverty and servitude. She leaves home looking for a better life, but her marriage fails and she finds only menial work. She believes her mother's preference for Gabriel robbed her of better opportunities, and she continues to resent her brother.