The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In a sense, all of the characters in The Groves of Academe are rigidly set in their ways and see themselves as loyal to certain principles. All are in turn flexible, however, as they react to external events and reinterpret principles to suit the occasion.

Henry Mulcahy can launch a pattern of lies when he becomes desperate. He has already accepted his job at Jocelyn as a last resort and has no other prospects for supporting his family. Thus he convinces himself that all methods are justified in striking out against a system that will not reward him or his work.

Domna Rejnev is the most developed character in the work and the most changing, in that her one constant seems to be vacillation. When facing difficulties, she asks herself, “What would Tolstoy say?” and tries to live according to precepts from her literary heroes. Her Russian background makes her especially sensitive to the issues of communism and of any form of political persecution. Mulcahy turns to her first, therefore, as the colleague most likely to sympathize with his position.

Several characters are presented from single perspectives that maximize comic effects. Henry’s wife Catherine seems constantly overwhelmed by her responsibilities, whether with Henry as chaperone of a student dance or at home surrounded by their four messy and demanding young children. She usually fills these roles with good humor and supportiveness for her husband. Thus, when...

(The entire section is 497 words.)