David adores his grandfather but is frightened by Jesse's attempt to sacrifice an animal to God. He hits Jesse with a slingshot and then runs away, fearful that he has killed the old man.
Jesse is a young, scholarly man who has to return from the city to run the family farm when his brothers are killed in the Civil War. His wife died in childbirth, bearing him a daughter instead of the son he wanted. He became a religious fanatic. Now that he has a grandson, David, he believes that he is meant to slay the Philistines who live all around him.
Wing is the central character of "Hands." He was run out of another town for being too affectionate with his male students and now lives on the outskirts of Winesburg alone.
Belle goes out walking with George Willard when she secretly wants to be with Ed Handby. Ed beats up George in "An Awakening."
Elmer is embarrassed that his father runs an unsuccessful store. He imagines that the people of the town think they are "Queer." He punches George Willard because he cannot express his frustration at the townspeople, whom he thinks are represented by George.
Tom is the main character of "Drink." He moved to Winesburg with his grandmother and now does odd jobs there. He decides one day to see how it feels to be drunk.
Formerly Louise Bentley, this woman lives a disappointed life. She got little love from her father; seeking love from a young man, she got marriage instead. She loves her son, David, rather erratically.
Rev. Curtis Hartman
In "The Strength of God," Reverend Hartman struggles with his desire for Kate Swift, who he accidentally sees lying naked and smoking from his study window.
Alice is the main character of "Adventure." She loved and slept with a man named Ned Currie before he left Winesburg for the city. He has not returned for her, and now she lives a lonely life.
The main character of "The Philosopher," Doctor Parcival tells outlandish stories about his life.
Doctor Reefy appears in "Paper Pills" and "Death." He writes down his thoughts and puts them in his pockets till they become little paper pills. He had a young wife who died young. He also was friends with Elizabeth Willard and almost had a love affair with her.
The main character of "The Thinker," Seth is a quiet young man. He is envious of his friend, George, who fits in more comfortably with the people of Winesburg.
Enoch lived in the city for many years, wanting to be an artist. He failed in that pursuit because he stayed in his room and imagined people to keep him company. His story is told in "Loneliness."
Kate taught George Willard when he was younger and now wants him to live up to her own unrealized dreams. She lived in the city for five years and has returned to Winesburg a silently passionate woman.
Tandy is given her name as a child by a man who tells her she should be the woman who has everything men want.
Joe is the main character of "A Man of Ideas." He has a lot of crazy ideas that he likes to talk about incessantly, drawing his listeners into his enthusiasm.
Helen is desired by many of the young men in town, including Tom Forst, Seth Richmond, and George Willard. She is the daughter of a banker and went away from the town for college. She and George have an evening together during which they connect and provide each other with just the right comfort as each faces adulthood.
Elizabeth appears in several stories, most notably "Mother" and "Death." She is George Willard's mother. She was adventurous when young and then married Tom Willard when it seemed time for her to marry. Now, she is worn out. She has an awkwardly caring relationship with her son and almost has an affair with Doctor Reefy. She spends her life with the vague hope of someday escaping from it.
If there is a central character in this text, it is George Willard. Winesburg, Ohio tells his coming-of-age story. He is a young man living in his mother's hotel in a small town. He writes for the local paper and has dreams of becoming a writer. At the beginning of the book, he is earnest and passionate about abstract ideas, but by the end he is prepared to go out into the world and try to make his living as a writer in the big city.
Part of what helps George grow up is the fact that the people of Winesburg tell him their stories. Perhaps this is because he is still young and so has not yet become a grotesque. Hearing their stories probably helps George to realize that people can be unhealthily attached to their ideas and that there are many types of people in the world. The stories certainly help the reader to realize these facts, but George's particular growth from these tales is never explicitly stated in the text.
Wash found out his young wife had lovers and sent her away. Her mother then tried to tempt him by sending his wife in naked to see him. Now, he is bitter and hates all women. His story is told in "Respectability."
The book begins with a writer whose bed is raised high to allow him to see the world, like a bed Sherwood Anderson once had. This writer is ostensibly the one telling the stories of the people of Winesburg.
Winesburg, Ohio: Character Profiles