Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In this novel, Lewis’s protagonist, Martin Arrowsmith, is much more fully developed—more of a three-dimensional person—than are the characters in his earlier books. From the first, when he is shown as an adolescent, Martin makes mistakes; he is not always the perfect hero. He is, in fact, recognizably human.
The locale (Elk Mills, in the state of Winnemac) represents Lewis’s midwestern roots. There is the inevitable Main Street and the feeling of transition from rural life to that of a small town; there is also the alcoholic Doc Vickerson, who encourages the fourteen-year-old Martin to “study medicine, go to Zenith, and make money.”
Martin goes to the state university as a medical student and has a professor, Dr. Max Gottlieb, who is to influence significantly the rest of his life. He also meets a number of other students who continue as characters throughout the novel. There is Ira Hinkley, the future medical missionary, Angus Duer, the future surgeon, and Clif Clawson, the practical joker, whose dismissal from medical school and subsequent appearance as an automobile salesman give Lewis a fine chance to satirize hucksterism. At this point Martin also meets the love of his life, Leora Tozer, a young nursing student.
As Dr. Gottlieb’s assistant, Martin is becoming very interested in the research area of medicine, but he makes a mistake, argues with Gottlieb, and after a night drinking, tells Dean Silva that he will...
(The entire section is 931 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Martin Arrowsmith is the descendant of pioneers who lived in the Ohio wilderness. He is growing up in the raw, midwestern red-brick town of Elk Mills. A restless, lonely boy, he spends his odd hours in old Doc Vickerson’s office. The village practitioner is a widower with no family of his own, and he encourages Martin’s interest in medicine.
Martin, now twenty-one years old, is a junior preparing for medical school at the sprawling University of Winnemac. In medical school, he is most interested in bacteriology, research, and the courses of Professor Max Gottlieb, a noted German biologist. After joining a medical fraternity, he makes many lifelong friends. He also falls in love with Madeline Fox, a shallow pseudointellectual who is doing graduate work in English. To the young man from the prairie, Madeline represents culture. They soon become engaged.
Martin spends many nights in research at the laboratory, and he becomes the favorite of Gottlieb. One day, Gottlieb sends him to Zenith City Hospital on an errand. There, Martin meets an attractive nurse named Leora Tozer; they are soon engaged. Martin finds himself engaged to two women at the same time. Unable to choose between them, he asks both Leora and Madeline to lunch with him. When he explains his predicament, Madeline stalks angrily from the dining room and out of his life. Leora remains, finding the situation amusing. Martin feels that his life has really begun.
(The entire section is 1268 words.)