Lou is a young woman who longs for romance but is simultaneously put off by the notion. She is attracted to the animalistic nature of men and feels that this aspect is too often suppressed by society. Lou's ever-watchful and controlling mother exerts a strong influence over her. Lou falls in love with Rico without her mother around because he is handsome and fascinating. But, Lou's mother intervenes in the relationship when Lou becomes ill. Rico and Lou marry despite Mrs. Witt's somewhat passive objections but the relationship eventually sours and becomes platonic. Lou is attracted to the power and beauty of the horse St. Mawr. This attraction is similar to her relationships with men because she is fascinated with an animalistic nature that is bound to be disappointed by reality. Lou continues to yearn for change and life satisfaction. She travels to America as a way to escape the monotony of a tired marriage. Once in America she quickly wants to go back to Europe but instead finds a dilapidated ranch that seems to call for her. Lou ultimately decides she wants the solitude of the ranch. However, her impulsive and indecisive nature will likely make this decision temporary also.
Rico uses his art to inject himself into high society. His relationship with the wealthy Lou reflects this ambition. Rico is handsome and charming. After marrying Lou, he settles into life in London, making a career of using his charms and his art to try to fit into that lifestyle. He is nonetheless never fully a part of high society, and this frustrates him as does his tumultuous relationship with Lou. He is reinvigorated when he reconnects with an old friend named Flora Manby whose romantic admiration for him makes him feel handsome and charming once again. Lou and Rico begin an affair. Despite this, Rico still wants his relationship with Lou and is upset that she is leaving for America which would disrupt the efforts he has made for an art career in London. He remains married to Lou in hopes that she will return.
D.H. Lawrence initially frames Mrs. Witt as the middle-aged mother of Lou who is always domineering. She is impatient with those who will not bend to her will, yet she is truly anything but superficial. Mrs. Witt's past of growing up on a wealthy plantation in Louisiana shapes Lou's personality as well as her own. Mrs. Witt's family owned slaves. While her upbringing taught her to view slaves and other servants as inferior, she truly believed that the slaves on her plantation liked her, and she carries this conflicting belief into her adult relationships. She treats Lewis as a servant yet expects him to accept her marriage proposal. When he refuses, she reverts to the belief that he is inferior, all the while never truly understanding how she had disrespected him. Her loneliness in middle age makes her melancholy, having felt no satisfaction with her life achievements including motherhood. She often thinks about her own death especially when she watches funerals in the cemetery. She wishes happiness for her daughter but dislikes her as a person, perhaps because she reminds her too much of herself.
St. Mawr is a powerful, attractive, and wild stallion and symbolizes all the things that attract Lou to a man. She admires St. Mawr's untamed nature which represents the animalistic side of humans who are ultimately tamed by society. While he is not a wild horse, he retains his untamed spirit that society fears because it can hurt or kill. In fact St. Mawr does hurt people unintentionally. This same fear in society forces people to conform because the wild spirit of humans is also unpredictable and can cause pain and death. St. Mawr is finally satisfied in the Texas countryside with the wide-open spaces to run and people who treat him more genuinely.
Phoenix becomes a consistent companion for Lou especially after Rico is injured. There is sexual tension between Phoenix and Lou. Both Lou and Mrs. Witt find Phoenix's race fascinating and yet something that relegates him to the servant class. Phoenix is playful and flirtatious with most women including Lou, and he believes his lust for her to be reciprocated. However, Lou's upbringing strictly segregates people by both class and race. She resists the urge to indulge in a relationship with Phoenix.
Lewis is quiet and keeps to himself. He has never had a wife or children and had a difficult upbringing with extended family members who saw him as a burden. He sees his position as a stable groom as merely a job and separates himself from the personal lives of his employers. He is spiritual but not religious because the family members who mistreated him practiced formal religion. He rejects Mrs. Witt's sudden marriage proposal because he requires respect which the Witt women cannot give to any man in a social class below their own.