Gilead Character List

John Ames

The seventy-six-year-old preacher and narrator of the novel, who is writing it as a letter to his son. He is dying from heart trouble and wants to leave an account of his life with his father and grandfather, as well as his thoughts on various memories and matters. He is smart, kind, serene, rational, and contemplative. He loves his life, especially his young wife and son, and is sorry to be leaving it. His main preoccupation is with the return of Jack Boughton, his best friend's son with whom he has always had difficulties. He works through his negative feelings and grows to think of the man as a son.

Ames's grandfather

An eccentric, fiery, keen-witted, angry, restless man who was missing his right eye. He claimed to have religious visions. He was active in the abolitionist cause and aided John Brown. He served as a chaplain in the Civil War. Near the end of his life he went off to Kansas, leaving his family.

Ames' father

A preacher and a pacifist who had a difficult relationship with his own father. He joins the army near the end of the war.

Ames's son

A young boy of about seven, he remains unnamed throughout the novel. He is serious, introverted, and sweet. He likes television playing outside with his friend Tobias, and playing baseball with Jack.


Ames's second wife, the mother of his son, and his true love. Lila is a serious, sad woman; the events of her past are unknown. She has always longed for a settled life, which she found in Ames. She is uneducated but smart, and loves to learn. Her knowledge of religion was limited when she first came to Ames's church. She is tolerant and kind, and a good friend to Jack.


Ames's best friend and a fellow preacher, Boughton is a very old and dying man at the time of Ames's narrative. He is keen-witted, kind, and a dear friend. He has a large family but cares most for his wayward and suffering son, Jack.

John Ames "Jack" Boughton

The son of Boughton and named after Ames, Jack is a troubled and suffering man. He left Gilead in disgrace as a young man after impregnating a poor young woman, but has returned to be with his dying father. He carries a great burden, which stems from his black wife and son: he has difficulty providing for them monetarily, as well as living with anti-miscegenation laws. Ames does not care for Jack for most of the novel, finding him insouciant, wry, and a cause of misery to people. He eventually grows to realize that Jack is like a son to him. At the end of the novel Jack putatively is going to meet up with his wife and child again.

Glory Boughton

Boughton's daughter who returns home to take care of her father after her failed marriage. She loves her brother but is frustrated when he will not stay with the family when their father passes. She had tried to take care of her brother's illegitimate child years earlier, but it did not work out.


Ames's first wife, whom he had known since they were children. She was a lovely, energetic young woman, but died in childbirth.


The daughter of Ames and Louisa, who died when she was a baby.

Ames's mother

A kind woman who takes care of the family and enjoys her kitchen.

John Brown

A real-life infamous abolitionist who was responsible for murdering pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and then for conducting a failed raid on Harper's Ferry in Virginia to incite a slave revolt (see "Other" section in this ClassicNote).

Robert Boughton Miles

Jack and Della's young son, described by Jack as beautiful, bright, and desirous of becoming a preacher when he grows up.


Jack's wife, an African American daughter of a preacher. She was a teacher until she became pregnant by Jack. She divides her time between him and her family.


Ames's beloved brother, who studied at Gottingen and became an atheist. He lived in Lawrence with his family and taught German literature until he died. Ames admires him, but feels that Edward judged him for not leaving Gilead.