Morris Bober is a neighborhood grocery store owner who is experiencing financial difficulty in the face of increased competition. He is a good man who tries to help his neighbors out when possible, but he struggles to help himself. He accepts his suffering as a necessity, a hallmark of Malamud's characters.
Frank is one of two robbers who held up Morris Bober's grocery store. He wants to atone for his wrongs and struggles with his destructive impulses as he tries to be a good person.
Helen is a smart young woman who wants to get an education but is unsure if she can because of her family's financial difficulties. She has been taken advantage of by men in the past, and when she meets Frank, she is eager to create something more lasting.