The Groves of Academe is McCarthy’s satiric foray against the administrations and the faculties of liberal higher education. The title is derived from a Horatian quote concerning the search for “truth” within the “groves” of academia. Clearly, from the opening of the first chapter, Henry Mulcahy and the other erudites who scheme to manipulate people and situations to their own ends do not have the search for truth first on their agenda. Even the most nobly portrayed professor, Domna Rejnev, places her own self-interest above truth and the safety of a colleague.
The plot of this scathing comedy of manners advances through the psychological machinations of Mulcahy, a pale, bulbous, tense, incompetent but intelligent instructor with a one-year contract, who fights for reinstatement on the basis of having previously been a member of the Communist Party and of his wife’s devastatingly poor health. The ingenuity of his first claim is that no progressive college such as Jocelyn College, in the age of Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist witch-hunts, would risk a public accusation of terminating a contract on the basis of political beliefs. Underlying his second claim is the idea that the news of his termination would seriously endanger the life of his wife, Cathy, because of the dangerous illness of which she has no knowledge. Neither basis is true; however, Mulcahy has a facility for convincing himself that a lie is truth and then for rallying others to believe. His perceptive reading of what motivates others to act, as well as of their subsequent predictable actions, illustrates his perverted brilliance.
He is also capable of...
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