Antoinette is the protagonist of the story. Her mother, Annette, is depressed because she has lost her livelihood and social standing as a result of the emancipation of the slaves. Antoinette is left to fend for herself and is not accepted by the people around her, who view her as different. Antoinette is a sensitive person and has no one with whom to regularly share her burdens. Antoinette's stepbrother, Richard Mason, marries her off to the Englishman Rochester, who marries Antoinette for the money she brings as dowry, which should legally be set aside for her and her heirs. He eventually comes to hate her and is convinced she is crazy. Antoinette suffers because of her marriage and her inability to understand and articulate her Creole self.
Rochester goes to Jamaica from England to meet Antoinette. He is aware of her wealth and agrees to marry her because of her money. After they are married, he comes to feel lust for her but not love. Later he becomes convinced she is crazy and he locks her up in an attic so she cannot hurt herself or others.
Christophine works for Annette and is a gift from her husband when they got married. Christophine, like Annette, is from Martinique. This connection enables Christophine to better appreciate Annette. She remains loyal to her and later to Antoinette. She is a fiercely independent woman who is proud to earn her own money. She practices obeah and has gotten in trouble with the law. Christophine stands up to Rochester and tries to save Antoinette from him.
Annette is an emotional woman. Her husband dies, leaving her with their two children, including a son who has a disability. Faced with very limited means, Annette is overwhelmed. Eventually she marries Mr. Mason. She begs him to leave Jamaica because she feels hated there, but he refuses. When their house burns down, her son dies. Annette is inconsolable and eventually goes insane from the grief.
Mr. Mason comes to Jamaica from England with the goal of increasing his wealth. While in Jamaica he meets and marries Annette. He is an opportunist who believes he can capitalize on the economic downfall of the slave owners to purchase land cheaply. He misjudges the former slaves, seeing them as harmless. Ultimately these freed slaves burn down his house, killing his stepson. His wife blames him.
Richard Mason takes responsibility for Antoinette when his father (and her stepfather) Mr. Mason dies. Mr. Mason intended to marry Antoinette off and Richard Mason follows through on this plan. However, instead of providing the money as a dowry, he gives it to Rochester without legal provision for Antoinette. Neither Aunt Cora nor Christophine approve of Richard Mason's choice of a husband. They believe that by giving Rochester full control over her money, Richard is doing a great disservice to Antoinette.
Amélie is a servant to Antoinette and Rochester in Granbois. She is attracted to Rochester, in part because she despises her mistress, whom she calls a "white cockroach." She looks down upon Antoinette and gets into a fight with her. Rochester and Amélie have a one-night affair, which he regrets the next morning.