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John Grimes is the protagonist of the novel. The book dwells into the life of the boy from childhood to adolescence. From a boy unsure of himself, he develops into a young man who succeeds in establishing his identity.
Johnís step-father, Gabriel is the antagonist in the novel. Gabriel dislikes John and looks at him with suspicion. Even when John receives enlightenment in the church, Gabriel raises doubts in the mind of the boy about fulfilling his responsibilities in the future. Gabriel creates fear and anger in the heart of John.
Gabrielís authoritarian ways and severity create animosity in John and makes the boy rebellious. John desires to taste the pleasures of life and enjoy freedom to indulge in activities of his choice. However, after he watches a movie, he feels guilty about doing so. He is also angry with his father for slapping his mother. Thus, in the evening at the church, he turns to god to give him peace of mind.
He falls down near the altar and imagines being punished for his sins. Torn by conflicting desires, he feels helpless. However, his faith in god and his innate goodness help him in attaining salvation. John receives the grace of God but Gabriel feels unsure of himself.