Julie is a quiet young woman who works and lives at Bascombe Cotton Mill with her friend Carrie Pipperidge. “Deeper than a well,” Julie is more complex that she might first appear, a daydreamer in her own world. She sees something in Billy Bigelow and falls for him. They marry, and despite warnings from others, Julie devotes herself to him. Though Billy treats her poorly, Julie cannot help but empathize with him. After his fatal misfortune, she courageously carries and raises their child without him.
The skilled barker for Mullin's Carousel at a coastal carnival, Billy is strong and attractive, but he’s also a troubled man known by local police as a sly charmer who deceives women for their money. After a spat with his boss, he spitefully quits his job in defense of Julie Jordan. When he finds himself unemployed with a baby on the way, Billy accepts an illicit opportunity to provide for his family. It doesn’t work, and he kills himself. Once in heaven – through the backdoor – he gets a second chance to go back to earth and right his wrongs.
Carrie Pipperidge is a spirited and complacent young woman. She is sweet and direct, if a bit naïve, and makes all the acceptable choices to live a proper life with a husband and many children. She works at the Bascombe Cotton Mill in town and lives at their boardinghouse with her close friend Julie Jordan. She is smitten by the ambitious but single-minded Enoch Snow, and they marry.
A respected proprietress of a seaside business, Nettie Fowler is Julie's cousin and trusted confidant. When Billy can't find work, Nettie gives them a place to stay. When tragedy befalls Julie and her unborn baby, Nettie promises to support her, assuring Julie that she will never be alone.
A warm-hearted, simple-minded fisherman who loves Carrie, Mr. Snow enjoys simple things like tending a garden and taking care of flowers when he is not working. He dreams of growing a sardine-canning business, being married and having many children. His dreams come true.
A seaman friend of Billy's with an eye for danger. Often conning to get by, Jigger is a man with little patience and a quick temper – always with a scheme. He prefers life at sea, where he is free from the laws of the land, and makes no bones about being attracted to Carrie at the clambake.
Mrs. Mullin: The proprietress of Mullin's Carousel, which was left to her by her late husband. She likes to keep an eye – and perhaps more – on Billy, not trusting his relationships with anyone else.
David Bascombe: A dignified man of earned wealth, Mr. Bascombe is the owner of the Bascombe Cotton Mill factory, where both Julie and Carrie work.
Starkeeper: In the afterlife, the Starkeeper greets Billy and shows him the way it works “up there.” Though he’s not the big man, just the one in charge of the “backyard of heaven,” the Starkeeper grants Billy the chance to return to earth one more time to repair the damage he has done to his wife and daughter.
Louise: Billy and Julie’s inquisitive 15-year-old daughter, on the verge of becoming a woman.
Enoch Snow, Jr.: Enoch and Carrie Snow’s son. Pompous and snotty.