(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the 1920’s, Lewis was the leading American social critic, satirizing small-town provincialism in Main Street, right-wing anti-intellectualism in Babbitt, and religious fundamentalism in Elmer Gantry. In Arrowsmith, he challenged the medical establishment for being more concerned with prestige and profits than with combating disease. Arrowsmith is a fictional counterpart to Microbe Hunters, whose author, Paul de Kruif, helped Lewis with research.

Martin Arrowsmith studies medicine under Professor Max Gottlieb, specializing in bacteriology. After getting his M.D. and marrying Leora Tozer, a young nurse, he spends some years as a country doctor. For a while he works for the Department of Public Health under Dr. Pickerbaugh, a medical Rotarian. But his real interest is in medical research, and after publishing papers on his own modest research, he gets a position in New York at the McGurk Institute of Biology, where he works on epidemiology.

When bubonic plague breaks out in the West Indies, Martin and the eminent Dr. Sondelius go there. Martin wants to conduct a controlled experiment with a serum that might be the antidote, giving it to only half the residents. Sondelius refuses to inject himself until Martin provides the serum for everyone. When Gottlieb and Leora both die of the plague, Martin damns his experiment and gives the serum universally. After Leora’s death he marries...

(The entire section is 483 words.)