In significant ways, Arrowsmith is a groundbreaking work both as an American novel and as a Sinclair Lewis novel. Never before had an American novel celebrated the work of a scientific researcher—novels that had treated the medical field had focused on doctors and nurses, both heroic and villainous. Indeed, medical research largely had been seen as dull work, its pioneering figures methodical eggheads or misanthropic cranks whose dense and theoretical work was inaccessible to the larger culture.
With Arrowsmith, Lewis portrays a young idealistic researcher torn between the pragmatic realities of the practice of medicine and his own irrepressible curiosity about all things medical and his own unwavering commitment to curing disease through lonely hours of tedious experimentation. Martin Arrowsmith speaks passionately of science as a religion. The followers of science are modern revolutionaries unwilling to accept anything but truth, surrounded by the temptation of easier occupations and simpler views of the universe; they are harried by the superstitious, the conservative, and the ignorant. A medical researcher, even one as selfless as Martin, was a most improbable hero of an American novel—his position so unique that a generation of prominent medical researchers, many of them eventual Nobel laureates, would later claim that reading Lewis’s novel had inspired them to follow the profession.
Far more important, perhaps, is...
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