Critical Context

The Citadel is a variation on the debunking sorts of books that Sinclair Lewis wrote in the 1920’s. Whereas Lewis’ Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), and Elmer Gantry (1927) debunked small-town America and such institutions as the business world and the Church, Cronin, in broad sweeps, exposed the forces that lead idealistic physicians to lose their idealism and to fit the unfavorable stereotypes that many people have of them.

Debunking books have often drawn substantial audiences, and books such as those of Lewis and Cronin point in the direction of the more specific, investigative books that are characteristic of an age of modern consumerism. Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed (1965), for example, has attracted many readers and sent a chill through Detroit’s automobile industry. Long before the rise of modern consumerism, books such as Frank Norris’ The Octopus (1901), an expose of the railroads’ exploitation of farmers, and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), an expose of the meat-packing industry, had a major impact on their readers.

It is in a milder version of this tradition that The Citadel can be placed. Despite its criticism of the medical profession, The Citadel is more in the spirit of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small (1972) than in the spirit of the muckrakers of the early twentieth century or of the investigative writers of the modern age of consumerism. Nevertheless, it joins hands with other novels of social criticism to form a tradition that persists to the present day.