Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



For more than thirty years, Mary McCarthy has served as the conscience of the liberal American intellectual. McCarthy’s method of writing is satire, and she treats both her sympathetic and unsympathetic characters satirically. The characters in her fiction are generally liberal intellectuals who follow one of two patterns. The sympathetic characters are those who, despite their flaws, endeavor to be conscientious, objective and truth seeking. They are plagued by self-doubt and constant awareness o their own limitations. In contrast, her unsympathetic characters are egotistical and self-deluding. Their intellectual capabilities are bent not toward fulfillment of their liberal and humanitarian ideals, but toward self-justification and rationalization of their own actions. The following thesis traces the increasingly pessimistic view of the latter type of liberal intellectual in Mary McCarthy’s political fiction. For the purpose of this thesis, four of McCarthy’s fictional works have been classified as primarily political: “Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man” in The Company She Keeps (1942), The Oasis (1949), The Groves of Academe (1951), and Birds of America (1971). There four works have been identified as political because the relationships and conflicts between the characters are essentially political rather than social or personal in nature. They conform to Irving Howe’s definition of the political novel as “a novel in which we take to be dominant political ideas or the political milieu, a novel which permits this assumption without thereby suffering any radical distortion and, it follows, with the possibility of some analytical profit.” Because political ideas are not dominant, two of her novels, A Charmed Life (1955) and The Group (1963), have been excluded from this study.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

McCarthy, Mary, 1912-1989 -- Political and social views



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University