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.)