Max Boris is an idealistic lawyer with communist sympathies who defends the protagonist Bigger Thomas but comes under attack himself because he is a communist and a Jew. More than any other character, he understands Bigger and forms a close relationship with him.
Britten is a private investigator who works for Henry Dalton's company. His
racism, anti-Semitism and fear of communists blind him to the crime.
Buckley is the State's Attorney who is running for re-election. From the
beginning he attempts to force Bigger to sign a confession and never for an
instant doubts his guilt. Realizing his election depends on a conviction, he
escalates the mob's violent feelings.
Buddy, Bigger's younger brother, blindly looks up to him and plans to follow in his footsteps by swearing at the end of the novel to get a gun.
Henry Dalton is Bigger's employer and landlord and also the father of the murdered Mary Dalton. A millionaire, he attempts to justify his slumlord business by helping the African-American community. However, he is completely out of touch concerning racial issues.
Mary Dalton is the idealistic but wild heiress daughter of the Daltons who gets drunk with her communist boyfriend, Jan, and has to have Bigger help her to her bedroom, where he accidentally suffocates her. He burns her body in the furnace.
Mrs. Dalton is the very wealthy mother of Mary Dalton. She has a kind heart but is out of touch with the realities of racism and poverty. When Mrs. Dalton enters her drunken daughter's room, Bigger feels forced to put the pillow over Mary's head to quiet her drunken murmurings.
Doc is the owner of the pool hall where Bigger hangs out with his friends Gus, GH and Jack.
Jan Erlone is Mary Dalton's idealistic communist boyfriend who befriends Bigger in jail even though Bigger attempted earlier to blame him for Mary's murder. Initially, Jan was blinded by communist dogma and didn't realize the pain he caused Bigger by attempting to treat him as a social equal. He comes to see cause and effect more clearly as the novel progresses.
GH, Gus and Jack:
GH, Gus and Jack are nondescript gang members who carry out petty thefts with Bigger. Bigger's fear of attacking Blum, a white store owner, cause him to attack Gus so he could take the Dalton job and save face.
Reverend Hammond is Ma's preacher who visits Bigger in prison where he attempts to save his soul in the refuge of religion. He places a wooden cross around his neck but Bigger throws it away in anger.
Ma is the single mother of Bigger, Buddy and Vera who has no other name. She simply represents the matriarchal role. Deeply religious, she sings hymns and preaches about work. Like the Oracle in ancient Greek drama, she also prophecies Bigger's death through her dire warnings that he will wind up on the gallows if he doesn't forgo his gang.
Bessie is Bigger's alcoholic girlfriend. She attempts to persuade Bigger to give up his plan to extort money. After she prophetically warns him that he will wind up dead, he rapes and kills her.
Peggy is the Irish housekeeper who believes herself to be a member of the Dalton family. She is kind, although patronizing, toward Bigger.
Bigger Thomas, whose first name rhymes with the most degrading of racial epithets, is the twenty-year-old protagonist who lives in Chicago's South Side Black Belt. He feels enraged by his lack of opportunities. The oldest of three children, Bigger is expected to take a job as a chauffeur to support his mother and younger siblings. After he accidentally kills his employer's daughter, Mary Dalton, he realizes he doesn't have a chance to clear himself and soon finds himself firmly trapped within the white judicial system and doomed to the electric chair.
Vera is Bigger's younger sister. She takes sewing classes at the YWCA. She faints after Bigger shoves a dead rat in her face.