Uma is the novel's spirited, oppressed heroine, the never-married daughter of a middle-class family in rural India. At an early age, Uma disappoints her parents by enthusiastically pursuing school, despite her failing grades, and showing… read analysis of Uma
Arun is the quiet, introverted baby brother of Uma, and the youngest child of Mama and Papa. From Arun's birth, Mama and Papa proudly invest all of their hopes and dreams into Arun… read analysis of Arun
Aruna is the pretty, confident, and socially ambitious younger sister of Uma and second daughter of Mama and Papa. As a child, school comes easily to Aruna, though she takes no interest in it… read analysis of Aruna
Mama is the wife of Papa and the mother of Uma, Aruna, and Arun. Throughout the novel, her first name is never revealed—rather, she is just called Mama, defined by her roles… read analysis of Mama
Mrs. Patton is the sister of Mrs. O'Henry, wife to Mr. Patton and mother of Rod and Melanie, and the host who invites Arun to stay with her and her family in Massachusetts… read analysis of Mrs. Patton
Mr. Patton is the husband of Mrs. Patton, and the father of Melanie and Rod. Working full-time in an office, Mr. Patton leaves housekeeping and cooking to his wife, with the exception of… read analysis of Mr. Patton
Melanie is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Patton, and the sister of Rod. Struggling with bulimia and anorexia that go unnoticed by her parents, Melanie is frequently bitter, angry, and difficult to… read analysis of Melanie
Rod is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Patton and the brother of Melanie. Even-tempered and unemotional, Rod betrays little reaction to the conflicts and tension within his home. He knows about Melanie's eating… read analysis of Rod
Anamika is the beautiful, graceful, intelligent daughter of Lily Aunty and Bakul Uncle, niece to MamaPapa and cousin to Uma. Kind and sweet, Anamika is everyone in the family's favorite girl, and as… read analysis of Anamika
Lily Aunty and Bakul Uncle
Bakul Uncle is the brother of Papa, and Lily Aunty is his wife. Almost always mentioned together, Bakul Uncle and Lily Aunty have a marriage much like Mama and Papa's—neither one expresses a different… read analysis of Lily Aunty and Bakul Uncle
Mira-masi is the widowed, religious wife of an elder cousin of Papa's family. She has dedicated her life to her worship of the Hindu god Shiva, and spends her days traveling the country, making pilgrimages… read analysis of Mira-Masi
Ramu is the son of Lily Aunty and Bakul Uncle, brother of Anamika, and cousin to Uma. Rebellious and adventurous, Ramu is the "black sheep" of the family. Spending his youth traveling… read analysis of Ramu
Mrs. O'Henry is the American Baptist missionary who lives in Uma's village, and the sister to Mrs. Patton. Intent on proselytizing, Mrs. O'Henry uses social events to spread her Christian message to the Indian… read analysis of Mrs. O'Henry
Mother Agnes is the Mother Superior at the Convent School where Uma attends as a child. Uma loves Mother Agnes, who returns Uma's affection. Yet, she feels helpless against MamaPapa's will to keep Uma at… read analysis of Mother Agnes
Mrs. Joshi is the neighbor and friend of MamaPapa and their family. Kind to Uma, Mrs. Joshi has a more modern parenting style and outlook on the world than Mama, and Uma often wishes… read analysis of Mrs. Joshi
Dr. Dutt is the confident, smart village doctor. An unmarried, independent woman, she is the daughter of an important politician. Dr. Dutt saves Uma when she has a seizure at Aruna's wedding, and later comes… read analysis of Dr. Dutt
Ayah is the nanny to Uma, Aruna, and Arun when they are young. Later in life, she stays on as the household servant. Ayah babies Uma even as an adult, and she often… read analysis of Ayah
Lakshmi is the rebellious daughter of Ayah. After Ayah works to find a good marriage for her daughter, Lakshmi decides she would rather be independent, so she escapes the marriage and goes to look… read analysis of Lakshmi
Arvind is the wealthy, handsome husband of Aruna from Bombay. Though he is powerful and has a high status, he accepts Aruna's efforts to run their household, and to keep him looking and acting sharp.
Aisha and Dinesh
Aisha and Dinesh are the young children of Aruna and Arvind. Growing up in Bombay within a wealthy household, they are well dressed and behave with a great sense of sophistication and entitlement. When they come to visit, Uma has to watch over them.
Mali is the elderly groundskeeper for MamaPapa. Relegated to living in the field, Mali lives in the hut he has built for himself. He tries to be upbeat, and make jokes with Uma, who is fond of him but treats him with a sense of superiority.