Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 15 16 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 15–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

In Parts 1 and 2 Martin Arrowsmith studies the catalogues of things he will need to set up his practice. He orders some items and chooses others from the Tozer attic. Leora Arrowsmith helps clean everything up. Mr. Tozer buys him a sign with "M. Arrowsmith, M. D." in gold letters. Martin feels happy.

In Part 3 Martin begins seeing patients in his new office. The patients are not exciting, but Martin soon feels he's earning enough to justify buying a car. Martin develops a reputation as a speedy driver. His practice benefits from the admiration some feel for his driving.

In Part 4 Martin criticizes the man running the drug store, Pete Yeska, who claims to be a licensed pharmacist but does a poor job filling prescriptions. Yeska does not appreciate being scolded by the new doctor. He joins the Norbloms in spreading negative opinions about Martin and encouraging people to go to another doctor, Dr. Hesselink.

In Part 5 Martin receives a frantic phone call from Henry Novak in the middle of the night. Novak's daughter Mary is sick. Martin rushes to their home, examines the girl, and diagnoses diphtheria. He drives at breakneck speed to Leopolis for the correct medicine. In Part 6 he arrives back at the Novak home with the medicine and quickly injects the girl. But it is too late to do any good, and she dies. The Novaks think the injection likely killed her, or at least that Martin hasn't done enough to save her. They spread their complaint around town. Martin feels terrible, and he drives to visit an older doctor, Dr. Adam Winter, in Leopolis, and tells him what happened. Winter tells him he did everything he should and could have done. He calls the newspaper and tells them the story so Martin's side of things will be known. Then he invites Martin and Leora to dinner. Later, the newspaper publishes the story in such a way that Martin looks like quite the hero. The article puts him back in good standing with the Novaks and others in Wheatsylvania,

Chapter 16

Part 1 begins by noting that after a year in Wheatsylvania, Martin is an "inconspicuous but not discouraged" doctor. He and Leora have a nice life, and he's getting along with her family. One day he happens to be going by a farmhouse when a woman rushes out, crying that her baby is choking. Martin saves the baby's life. The news quickly spreads. He is a hero. Leora sighs and notes that she never expected to be a "Pillar of the Community."

In Part 2 it is 1912, and Martin has been in Wheatsylvania for a year and a half. Bert Tozer, Martin's brother-in-law, goes to a state convention for Modern Woodmen of America and comes back with "notions." One of his notions is that all cars should be adorned with a Wheatsylvania pennant. He urges Martin to be the first one to display one. Martin refuses. Everyone else who has a car participates, though, and Martin's reputation slips as a result of his lack of public spirit.

In Part 3 Martin gets some criticism because he drinks, plays poker, and doesn't spend enough time with the town's clergymen. Martin begins to get tired of the constant gossip about him, and he chafes at the lack of challenging cases in town. He visits Dr. Hesselink and asks him how he stays inspired to learn new things. Hesselink says he's inspired simply by helping the sick. Martin drives home, feeling disappointed at Hesselink and insecure about himself. He decides to read more and improve his mind beyond the scope of bacteriology and medicine. Leora encourages him, and together they read a wide variety of books.

In Part 4 Martin becomes fascinated by Gustaf Sondelius. Sondelius is a doctor famous for world travels in which he cures epidemics, founds institutions, makes speeches, and tries new drinks. Martin's imagination had once been inspired by Gottlieb. Now, he's become "converted" to a similar hero-worship of Sondelius. His zealous devotion to Sondelius's cause of eradicating disease, however, is annoying to those around him.

As Part 5 begins, Leora is five months from giving birth to their first child. Martin has high hopes for the child, but he's worried about Leora, who has severe morning sickness. He maintains a forced cheerfulness, but inside he is deeply worried. His fears are realized when the baby is stillborn, and Leora is told she will not be able to have other children.

Analysis

These chapters catalogue the ups and downs of the country doctor. He gains admirers and critics. He saves lives simply by being in the right place at the right time. He loses patients that he tries hard to save. He has to contend with the town know-it-alls and those who peddle quack remedies. He is asked to participate in ridiculous demonstrations of town loyalty and disparaged when he refuses. His personal life is a fishbowl—so his drinking and card playing do not go unnoticed. Leora feels the pressure to become a "Pillar of the Community."

The trouble is that Martin Arrowsmith's ability to provide good medical care depends on his ability to also maintain a certain reputation in the community. He must please those who have influence and try not to make any enemies. He has little freedom to be himself in public because of all the whispering and gossiping. Yet Martin's true longing—perhaps his calling—is to do research. To pursue pure science, he must be beholden only to the evidence from his research. He can't have all these other constraints. It is abundantly clear that being a practicing physician and being a research scientist are two very different occupations and not easily blended.

Martin's interaction with Dr. Hesselink again shows that he is a deeply insecure person. It may be this insecurity that propels him into the hero-worship of those like Gustaf Sondelius. Sondelius is just the latest hero in a succession of mentor heroes: Doc Vickerson, Max Gottlieb, and Dean Silva. Sondelius lives a life Martin clearly finds quite fascinating and admirable. He not only solves global medical problems but also leads a life full of glamorous travels and fancy cocktails. Martin is always enthusiastic when he begins to adhere to a new cause. More often than not—others find his single-minded devotion annoying.

An important development in Martin's family life takes place in this chapter, as Leora Arrowsmith not only loses the baby but is told she cannot have children at all. Without a child to care for, Leora decides to direct her maternal abilities toward Martin. She can see that in many ways he is still a child and needs her to help him stay grounded.

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