The narrator – The narrator struggles to recognize an identity that honors his character, personality, and purpose. He finds that his dreams have slowly been obliterated through his experiences as a college student, an employee at the Liberty Paints plant, and as an affiliate in the Brotherhood.
Brother Jack – He initially seems empathetic, smart, and caring, while proclaiming his protection of the socially oppressed. He in fact holds racist viewpoints and is incapable of viewing people as more than instruments to fulfill his agenda.
Tod Clifton – He eventually parts ways with the Brotherhood and begins selling Sambo dolls on the street; apparently perpetrating and taunting the stereotype of the lazy and submissive slave that the dolls signify.
Ras the Exhorter – Ras represents the black nationalist movement and regularly opposes the Brotherhood and the narrator. He also provokes uprisings in Harlem.
Rinehart – Rinehart has an infinite amount of identities such as pimp, bookie, and preacher. The Narrator is misidentified as Rinehart in Harlem when he wears dark sunglasses. He concludes that Rinehart’s ability to have various societal roles represents a life of extreme independence, intricacy, and opportunity.
Dr. Bledsoe – The president at the narrator’s college and is self-seeking, ruthless, and disloyal. He is a black man that masks himself as a servant to the white community. He would rather have every black man in society murdered than rescind his position.
Mr. Norton – He represents a white Northern Liberal, and believes it is his duty to enlighten and civilize the inferior Black class. Although his motives are seemingly generous and sincere, he is racist and patronizing.
Reverend Homer A. Barbee – Reverend Barbee visits the narrator’s college and gives avid praise of the Founder’s “vision.” This strikes an unintentionally ironic because he is a blind man. Ellison uses Barbee to mock the college’s desire for reform.
Jim Trueblood – Lives outside of the narrator’s college campus and is a shameful disgrace to the black community for his incestual act of impregnating his daughter.
The veteran – A black man who is institutionalized and makes intensely perceptive comments about race relations. Claiming to be an alumna of the narrator’s college, the veteran attempts to uncover the weaknesses of the school’s philosophy. The veteran demonstrates to be the only character who expresses truth in the initial stages of the novel in spite of the labels place on him by society.
Emerson – The younger Emerson is compassionate towards the narrator and discloses Dr. Bledsoe’s deceitful acts towards him. He helps him find a job, but is too consumed with his own obstacles to support the narrator in a significant way.
Mary – After discovering that the Men’s House has restricted him the narrator moves in with Mary who is peaceful and maternal. Mary allows him to stay free of rent and fosters his identity through advising him to become involved in the fight for racial equality.
Sybil – A white woman that uses the narrator to fulfill her sexual fantasy of being raped by a black man. The narrator initially intended on discovering information about the Brotherhood and unintentionally became sexually involved.