Roy is John's younger brother and Gabriel's eldest biological son. Roy is fascinated by the rockpile near their apartment and plays on it in defiance of his mother's instructions to keep away. He's injured on the rockpile when a fight breaks out and boys throw rocks and cans at each other. A tin can hits Roy under his eye and causes a minor wound. He's favored by his father Gabriel, who blows the injury out of proportion.
John/Johnnie ("The Rockpile" & "The Outing")
John is Elizabeth's eldest son and Roy's older half-brother. John has no interest in the rockpile because he knows he would face more severe consequences if he were hurt on it. He is not Gabriel's biological son; therefore Gabriel has a tendency to blame him when things go wrong and use him as a convenient scapegoat, when in fact Roy acted on his own volition to go to the rockpile.
Elizabeth ("The Rockpile" & "The Outing")
Elizabeth is the mother of Roy and John (as well as Paul and Delilah, the younger siblings who have no speaking role in the story). The reader is given limited but important clues regarding her past. She hails from the rural south, and her son John is from a past relationship—her days of living in so-called sin before partnering with Gabriel. Elizabeth feels a responsibility to protect John from Gabriel, because she feels that his precarious position in the household is her own fault.
Sister McCandless ("The Rockpile" & "The Outing")
Sister McCandless is a neighbor and older friend of Elizabeth. She takes charge when Roy runs home with a bleeding cut from the thrown tin can. She seems to blame John for not watching his brother adequately and not telling Elizabeth that he went down to play with his friends. She ironically claims that Gabriel is too soft on John.
Gabriel ("The Rockpile" & "The Outing")
Gabriel is the head of the household and Elizabeth's partner. His presence is large and looming, like the rockpile itself. He inspires different emotions in his sons. For Roy, he represents safety and security, but for John, he is a somewhat threatening and unpredictable presence. Even Elizabeth "trembles" when she stands up to him, afraid that his rage and hatred may cause him to lash out at her. He is shown to be a religious man, and what little kindness he shows to Elizabeth comes from his perception of her as his "helpmeet" sent by God to help him raise a family.
Sylvia ("The Outing")
The protected daughter of Sister Daniels and the object of David's affections. Roy, Johnnie, and David pool together their money to buy Sylvia a gold-plated brooch for her birthday. She is a devout member of Gabriel's congregation and (much to the dismay of David) has the incessant attention of Brother Elisha.
David ("The Outing")
A close friend and love interest of Johnnie's. David and his mother are invited on the outing by Johnnie, who really just wants the opportunity to spend time with David in a beautiful place. David waits for the entire story for an opportunity to speak to Sylvia without her mother or the doting Brother Elisha present. Johnnie grows jealous from his obsessive need to talk to Sylvia alone, rather than in the presence of her mother.
Brother Elisha ("The Outing")
Brother Elisha is a young member of the church, and its clear that he's on track to be a preacher. He admonishes David and Johnnie for resisting the church and righteously assures them that the best thing they can do is follow in his footsteps and choose salvation while they're still young.
Eric ("The Man Child")
Eric is an eight-year-old boy who lives on a large farm with his parents and in the frequent company of their neighbor, his father's best friend Jamie. Eric learns that when he's older, all his father's land will be his, and so he spends his days exploring the land and pretending to lord over it like his father. Eric is strangled to death by Jamie.
Jamie ("The Man Child")
Jamie, arguable the man child to which the title refers, is a thirty-four-year-old failed farmer, and the longtime lover of Eric's father. He wants to be with Eric's father but knows that this can never happen, because first of all, Eric's father would never openly be with him, and second, he can't provide Eric's father what he wants out of life: a family legacy.
Peter ("Previous Condition")
Peter is an actor in his mid-twenties, living in New York and struggling to find a place to live because white landlords keep turning him away. He also feels unfulfilled in his profession because he is typecast due to his race and appearance.
Ida ("Previous Condition")
Ida is a friend and sometime-lover of Peter's. He describes her as coming from a "shanty Irish" family in Boston and says that she married for money. She is supportive of Peter but unable to understand that the discrimination he faces as a black man is different from the poverty she experienced as a child.
Jules ("Previous Condition")
Jules is a friend of Peter's who tries to help him find a place to live by renting rooms for him; usually, this doesn't work out, because when the landlord realizes that Peter is the one living in their apartment, they kick him out. Jules is Jewish and, similarly to Ida, wrongly conflates the discrimination he faces with that which Peter faces.
Sonny ("Sonny's Blues")
The narrator's brother in "Sonny's Blues," Sonny is a young jazz pianist in Manhattan who is arrested for heroin-related charges; upon his release, he reconnects with his brother and tries to stay clean.
Ruth ("Come Out the Wilderness")
Ruth is the protagonist of "Come Out the Wilderness." She is a secretary for a life-insurance firm who is afraid that her relationship with Paul, her painter boyfriend with whom she lives in Greenwich Village, is coming to an end.
Jesse ("Going to Meet the Man")
Jesse is the main character and the closest perspective to the narration in the collection's title story, "Going to Meet the Man." Jesse is a virulently racist police officer in a southern town, and as a child, he witnessed the brutal mob execution of a black man in his town.
Going to Meet the Man Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Going to Meet the Man is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.