Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Group traces the lives of nine members of Vassar College’s class of 1933 (eight of whom compose “the group”), from Kay’s marriage shortly after their graduation until the day of her funeral. In a loosely woven narrative, Mary McCarthy documents the personal growth of each character and explores the ways in which their education had an effect upon their lives. Though McCarthy described The Group as illustrating the failure of America’s “faith in progress,” the novel should not be dismissed as mere satire. Far more than McCarthy’s other works of fiction, The Group displays sympathy for its central characters at the same time that it dissects their values. It is thus as a chronicle of the beliefs shared by a class of educated and privileged young women that The Group makes its greatest contribution.

The novel is arranged chronologically in fifteen chapters, each of which is centered upon an incident in the life of one of the group’s members. For this reason, the group itself rather than any individual serves as the novel’s protagonist. Kay and Harald’s wedding, for example, provides the author with an opportunity to demonstrate the personalities of all of her central characters. Kay herself appears adventurous and daring by inviting no parents to her wedding. Pokey displays her superficiality by speaking disdainfully of Harald’s shoes. Lakey’s angry reply to Pokey’s remark reveals the contempt that she has even for other members of the group. Dottie, the most devout and...

(The entire section is 633 words.)