The novel is set in the 1950s in Fort Repose, a small town on the Timucuan River in central Florida. As the novel opens, relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union are extremely tense, and the two powers are on the brink of nuclear war. After the nuclear attack on the U.S., the people of Fort Repose simply refer to the day of the attack as “The Day.” The novel was written in the 1950s and the segregation and attitudes of those times are apparent throughout the novel.
Randy Bragg - Randy Bragg is the younger son of a prominent local family. His ancestor founded the town of Fort Repose in the early 1800s. Randy is a lawyer but does not practice law. Randy is responsible for pulling together his family and neighbors after "The Day" in order to survive the disasters that follow the nuclear attack. As the novel progresses, Randy grows from a playboy bachelor into a hardened leader.
Helen Bragg – Helen Bragg is Randy’s sister-in-law, the wife of his brother Col. Mark Bragg. Before "The Day", Col. Bragg sends her and their children from their home in Omaha (home of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) base, Offutt Field) to the relative safety of Fort Repose. Helen is a strong-willed, practical, and independent woman accustomed to handling herself and her family during her husband’s absences.
Lib McGovern – Elizabeth “Lib” McGovern is Randy’s latest love interest. She is the daughter of a successful Cleveland businessman and has moved to Florida with her parents when they retired. Later, after "The Day", she marries Randy Bragg. Like Randy, her personality changes as the novel progresses, transforming from a pampered daughter into a shrewd, practical, and independent woman.
Dr. Dan Gunn - Dan Gunn is the town doctor. Dr. Gunn was an idealistic man in his youth but became bitter due to the financial burdens of a divorce. After "The Day", when money no longer has any value, he gradually recovers his idealism, his new goal being simply to be a healer. Within a few days after the nuclear attack, he moves into Randy Bragg’s house. Drug addicts kill his partner at the Fort Repose clinic in a raid on the clinic.
Florence Wechek – Florence Wechek is an older, unmarried woman living near Randy Bragg. She runs the local Western Union station.
Alice Cooksey – Alice is another older, unmarried woman, a friend of Florence Wechek. She is the town’s librarian. She has become disillusioned with her life and occupation, but rediscovers her purpose in life after "The Day" when the library becomes the only source of learning and entertainment.
Col. Mark Bragg – Mark Bragg is Randy’s older brother. It is Mark who tips off Randy to the coming war and urges him to prepare. Sensing the coming danger, he moves his family from Omaha, a primary target in a nuclear war, to the relative safety of Fort Repose. He is stationed at SAC headquarters on "The Day" and is not heard of again.
Admiral Sam Hazzard - Sam Hazzard is a retired Navy officer living near Randy Bragg. His shortwave radio is the only source of news and world events.
The Henry’s – The Henry’s are a poor black family living next to Randy Bragg. Clarence “Preacher” Henry is the minister of the Afro-Repose Baptist Church. He has a son, known as “Two-Tone” because of the two-toned color of his skin, whose wife, Missouri, cleans houses in the town. They have two children: Malachi, the elder son, has mechanical skills learned from a short stint in the military; and Caleb, a playmate of Helen Bragg’s children.
Ben Franklin and Peyton Bragg - Ben and Peyton are the children of Col. Mark and Helen Bragg. Ben is 13, and Peyton is 11. They lived in Omaha and were sent to live in Fort Repose by their father when he senses that war is imminent.
Bill McGovern – Bill McGovern is Lib’s father. He was a successful businessman in Cleveland but was forced into early retirement. Having little to do in retirement, he became bored and lost his sense of purpose. After "The Day", he rediscovers life. His wife, Lavinia, a diabetic, dies not long after "The Day" due to a lack of insulin. After Lavinia’s death, he moves into Randy’s house.