The uniqueness of Mary McCarthy’s social chronicle The Group resides in the inherent irony of the very title of the novel. Unlike her earlier writing, fictional and nonfictional, this novel has no single character or voice through whom the intellectually severe voice of the author is heard. The main character is a composite of nine Vassar graduates of the by now famous class of 1933. Fragments of the author’s own attitudes and experiences appear in each of the nine classmates, more so in some than in others, perhaps. The composite voice, then, can be heard as the voice of Vassar College, as it is the ideas instilled in the group by their professors that form a bond among them. That bond marks them as Vassar girls and makes others self-consciously outsiders.
Among the nine graduates, minor groupings exist. The original group consists of Lakey, Helena, Dottie, Pokey, Libby, and Priss. Because eight girls are needed to occupy the South Tower of Main Hall, Polly and Kay are invited by Lakey to join them. Another classmate, but not a groupmate, Norine, provides a dissonant counterpoint to the elitism of the others, and as such she is part of the composite character.
Two other groups function importantly in the novel, one as sympathetic participant in the group’s elitism and the other as antagonist to the insiders. The families, especially the mothers, comprise the former; the husbands, lovers, friends, and assorted acquaintances (mostly male) constitute the latter.
The novel consists of fifteen untitled chapters, each a vividly detailed characterization of one of the women in her specific...
(The entire section is 668 words.)