The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The insularity of the members of the group is established immediately when all gather in New York for the wedding of “Kay Leiland Strong, Vassar ’33, the first of her class to run around the table at the Class Day dinner,” to “Harald [spelled with an “a”] Petersen, Reed ’27, in the chapel of St. George’s Church, P. E., Karl F. Reiland, Rector.” The girls, most of whom have grown up in the Eighties or on Park Avenue, delight in discovering for the first time various sections of the city such as Murray Hill, MacDougal Alley, Patchin Place, and the Heights section of Brooklyn. As a group, they feel adventuresome, armed with their ideas fresh from Vassar’s campus. Kay, who has worked with Hallie Flanagan in dramatic production and has been changed by her course in animal behavior with “old Miss Washburn,” is beginning a merchandising career at Macy’s. All eight sisters are excited, yet disquieted, by some of the daringly unconventional aspects of her wedding.

In this first chapter, each groupmate is briefly introduced by her reactions to the unconventionalities. “Who would have thunk it?” “What perfect pets they look!” “Not too bad,” said another, “Except for the shoes.” In all of their excitement and their questioning, however, they “knew they had something to contribute to our emergent America” and were “not afraid of being radical either; they could see the good Roosevelt was doing, despite what Mother and Dad said.” Even the most “conservative of them, pushed to the wall, admitted that an honest socialist was entitled to a hearing. The worst fate, they utterly agreed, would be to become like Mother and Dad, stuffy and frightened.” As though to underscore this unconventionality, older persons, even Kay’s parents, were absent at the wedding.

Slowly Kay is removed from center stage in the novel into the role of simply one of the nine classmates. As their varied lives cross paths, McCarthy documents with heavy detail the “progress” of each. She is ruthlessly clinical, for example, as she describes the manner in which Dottie Renfrew, Bostonian par excellence, decides, two nights after Kay’s wedding, that the time for sexual...

(The entire section is 904 words.)