Ellen Weatherall experienced a painful jilting as a young woman, being left alone at the altar by her fiancé, George. However, she went on to become a wife and mother afterwards. Ellen has the strength to take over the management of the farm when her husband dies and prides herself on raising her children well. In addition to her farm and parental duties, she has possibly been a midwife, as she alludes to "riding country roads in the winter when women had their babies." A good Catholic, Ellen Weatherall is confident she is prepared to die, leaving everything in order. She is annoyed by her condescending daughter, Cornelia, and the doctor who seem to think her age has weakened her. She is still bitter towards George, but the person she misses most of all is her beloved Hapsy, whom she hopes to see in eternity. But in the moment when she faces death, she despairs. The hope she placed in Christ proves empty.
Cornelia is a good daughter. She loves her mother and has dutifully taken her into her own home to care for her. Cornelia grieves and frets over her mother, doing everything she can to make her comfortable. It is Cornelia who calls the doctor, priest, and her siblings to surround her mother at death, and it is Cornelia whose voice shakes with emotion in her mother's final moments.
George is the man who left his fiancée Ellen alone at the altar on her wedding day. His action on that day causes Ellen lifelong trauma and pain, but she says it was the only way in which he hurt her. She pretends to have forgotten him but clearly has not.
Hapsy is portrayed as a caring young woman and mother to a baby boy. She passed away giving birth. It is possible she was one of Ellen's children, but critics have offered other interpretations based on the strong emotional connection between the two women. She loved Ellen Weatherall, who hopes to be reunited with Hapsy when they are joined in death.
As seen through Ellen's eyes, John was a good husband. He took care of his wife and children until his untimely death.