(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 not apologize, so he is suspended from the university. With little sense of direction, and a lot of drinking, Martin actually becomes a hobo, but he finally heads west to Leora, who has returned to her hometown at her parents’ insistence. Her family opposes their marriage, but they elope, and the Tozers must accept it.

In the flush of graduation and a decision to set up practice in Wheatsylvania (Leora’s hometown), Martin’s devotion to research (and to Max Gottlieb) is temporarily forgotten. Gottlieb has been discharged from the hospital; his wife is ill, and the doctor is nearly at his wit’s end when he is offered a position at a pharmaceutical firm, formerly a target of his scorn. From this time on, Arrowsmith deals largely with the commercial exploitation of scientific findings versus the...

(The entire section is 931 words.)

Arrowsmith Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.

Through his friendship with Gottlieb, Martin becomes a student instructor in bacteriology. Leora is called home to North Dakota. Her absence, trouble with the college dean, and too much whiskey lead Martin to leave school during the Christmas holidays. Traveling like a tramp, he arrives at Wheatsylvania, the town where Leora lives. In spite of the warnings of the dull Tozer family, Martin and Leora are married. Martin goes back to Winnemac alone. A married man now, he gives up his work in bacteriology and turns his attention to general study. Later, Leora joins him in Mohalis.

Upon completion of his internship, Martin sets up an office in Wheatsylvania with money supplied by his wife’s family. In the small prairie town, Martin makes friends of the wrong sort, according to the Tozers, but he is fairly successful as a physician. He also makes a number of enemies. Meanwhile, Martin and Leora move from the Tozer house to their own home. Martin and Leora’s first child is born dead, and they know they will never have another child.

Martin again becomes interested in research. He hears that Swedish scientist Gustaf Sondelius is to lecture in Minneapolis, so he travels there to hear Sondelius’s presentation. Martin becomes interested in public health as a means of controlling disease. Back in Wheatsylvania, still under the influence of Sondelius, he becomes acting head of the department of public health. Martin, in his official capacity, finds that a highly respected seamstress is also a chronic carrier of typhoid; he sends her to the county home for isolation. As a result, he becomes generally unpopular. He therefore welcomes...

(The entire section is 1268 words.)