Linda Brent – The protagonist, and a pseudonym for Harriet Jacobs. At the start of the story, Linda is unaware of her status as a slave due to her first kind masters, who taught her how to read and write. She faces harassment by her subsequent masters, the Flints. Linda learns along the way how to defend herself against her masters. She uses psychological warfare to avoid the advances of Dr. Flint. Jacobs reveals in the beginning of the book that there were aspects of her story that she could not bear to write. She is torn between her desire for personal freedom and responsibility to her family, especially her children Benny and Ellen.
Dr. Flint – Linda's master, enemy and would-be lover. He has the legal right to do anything he wants to Linda, but wants to seduce her rather than take her by force in rape. Throughout the book, Linda constantly rebels against him and refuses any sexual dealings. He becomes enraged, obsessing about breaking her spirit. Dr. Flint never recognizes that Linda is a full human being. Dr. Flint objectifies Linda as a woman slave and consistently fights with his wife.
Aunt Martha – Linda's maternal grandmother and close friend. Religious and patient, she is saddened about the treatment of her children and grandchildren by their white masters. She grieves when her loved ones escape to freedom, as she knows they will never meet again. Family to her must be preserved even at the cost of freedom and happiness. Aunt Martha stands up for herself, speaking to the Flints out of her dignity. She is the only slave whom Dr. Flint respects.
Mrs. Flint – Linda's mistress and Dr. Flint's wife. Suspecting a sexual relationship between Linda and her husband, she treats the girl viciously. Though a church woman, she is brutal and insensitive to her slaves, representing the corruption caused by slavery. She and her husband fight about Linda, as he protects her from corporal punishment by Mrs. Flint.
Mr. Sands – Linda's white sexual partner and the father of her children, Benny and Ellen. Though somewhat kindly, Sands has no real love for his two slave children. But he serves as Linda's portal to partial freedom, and the two can use each other. Sands breaks promises to Linda and he eventually doesn't talk to her anymore. He eventually has another child by his wife and treats that child with more affection than Benny and Ellen.