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Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 19 20 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 19–20 | Summary



Chapter 19

In Part 1 Martin Arrowsmith and Leora Arrowsmith move to Nautilus, Iowa, a city of 70,000 people. It's not a major city, but it is far more cosmopolitan than Wheatsylvania. In Part 2 Martin goes to work for Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh, director of the Department of Public Health. Pickerbaugh is a man who enjoys the sound of his own voice and subjects his employees to long-winded lectures. He also makes up little rhymes to get people to adopt sanitary habits.

In Part 3 Martin learns that his job consists of an odd assortment of duties and a very small amount of laboratory work. In Part 4 he and Leora go to dinner at the Pickerbaugh home. They meet Dr. Pickerbaugh's eight daughters, who form the singing group the Healthette Octette. After dinner the Octette treats the Arrowsmiths to a performance, and they play charades. Nineteen-year-old Orchid Pickerbaugh becomes flirty with Martin, and he seems attracted to her. Later, Leora warns Martin not to have anything to do with Orchid. He feels badly about his attraction to Orchid and about his new job.

Chapter 20

In Part 1 Martin and Leora settle into life in Nautilus. To Martin's surprise, after a few days he gets a call from Irving Watters of the University of Winnemac. Irving is working as a doctor in Nautilus. He invites Martin and Leora to dinner. At dinner both Watters and his wife give Martin and Leora advice on how to be successful in Nautilus. When Mrs. Watters learns they have no children, she tells them they "must" have some. The Arrowsmiths exchange a look. They are relieved when they can finally leave.

In Part 2 Martin and Leora are inundated with invitations to social activities. Although they miss having quiet nights at home, they fall into the habit of "social ease" and learn to play bridge and tennis. The Watters work hard at making them into respectable people. Martin finds that there are benefits to being respectable, like the admiration of Orchid and being listened to by members of the community.

In Part 3 Martin must give a public speech on "What the Laboratory Teaches about Epidemics." At first he is anxious, but he manages to give the speech and people seem to enjoy it. Orchid especially likes it. Leora tells him it was long.

In Part 4 Martin and Leora go to the Pickerbaughs' snow picnic at their log cabin a little north of Nautilus. The school physician pays special attention to Leora, which makes Martin jealous. He decides to go tobogganing with Orchid and then skiing. While skiing, they tumble and wrestle in the snow. When they get back to the cabin, there is sexual tension between them. For a few days after the picnic, Leora gives Martin the cold shoulder. He doesn't ask why.


As Martin Arrowsmith goes from one context to the next, he is constantly confronted with people who are more respectable, wealthier, and more socially adept than he is. At his core he wants to be more like Max Gottlieb, who doesn't seem to care about what others think of him. Yet, he can't seem to shed this desire to be successful in outward appearance. This pattern occurs in Nautilus just as it occurred at the university and in Wheatsylvania. There are powerful attractions to being wealthy and viewed as respectable and successful. One is the attraction of women. In these chapters, as Martin and Leora begin to be accepted into respectable society, Martin gets his first taste of sexual temptation while married.

The flirtatious relationship with Orchid Pickerbaugh begins to introduce a real threat to Martin and Leora Arrowsmith's marriage. Leora has made no secret that she'll have to hurt any woman who tries to take Martin from her. So when Martin and Orchid have such a fun time tobogganing and skiing, and Leora clearly notices, suspense escalates. However, Orchid is not a fully fleshed-out character. Rather, she seems to be a manifestation of the more essential temptation—that of respectability. His little flirtation with her runs parallel to his flirtation with the life of success and money. He's at a turning point in life as well as in his marriage.

Another feature of these chapters is the sharp contrast between Martin and the two other doctors—Almus Pickerbaugh and Irving Watters. They are all doctors, but Pickerbaugh is a "salesman" and Watters is just the grown-up version of the appallingly normal student from medical school. But while Martin feels like he might fit in with the salesmanship of Pickerbaugh and the respectability of Watters, Leora knows those things aren't the real Martin. She tells Martin he belongs "in a laboratory, finding out things, not advertising them." She calls him a barbarian, even though he tries to pretend otherwise. She demands, "Are you going on for the rest of your life, stumbling into respectability and having to be dug out again?" Her frustration with him is evident, but so is her importance in the novel as the one person who can pull him away from the lure of respectability and call him back to himself. Her influence is truly vital.

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