Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 23 24 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 23–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23

In Part 1 Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh boosts his congressional campaign by organizing a health fair. Among other "novel" events at the health fair are Martin Arrowsmith doing "jolly things with test-tubes" and the introduction of the Eugenic Family. This family is reputed to be a shining example of the "benefits of healthful practices." Things are not all wonderful at the Heath Fair. The Eugenic Family turns out to be the Holton Gang—criminals. And on the last day of the fair two women get in a fight and a fire breaks out. Though Martin helps extinguish the fire, Dr. Pickerbaugh ends up being the hero in all the newspaper accounts.

In Part 2 Pickerbaugh wins the election, and the Pickerbaughs plan their move to Washington, DC. Martin is sad to see Orchid Pickerbaugh go. In Part 3 Martin becomes acting director of public health, and though some people aren't thrilled by the appointment, he has the mayor's approval. In Part 4 the community sends Dr. Pickerbaugh off in style with a celebration.

Chapter 24

Part 1 of this chapter finds Martin in charge of the Department of Public Health. He takes on a young assistant, Dr. Rufus Ockford, whom he assigns to spend half his time in the city's free clinic. This makes the other doctors in town angry, because some people who can afford a doctor go to the free clinic anyway. Martin spends more and more time in the lab doing research and starts to write a scientific paper. However, the mayor gives him a hard time for doing lab work instead of getting out into the community.

In Parts 2 and 3 Martin's reputation as director of public health continues to go downhill. He closes down and then demolishes some tenements owned by the wealthy nymphomaniac Mrs. McCandless. He alienates his friends by working instead of socializing. The mayor hints that he should resign. The newspapers attribute a death at the clinic to the negligence of Martin and Ockford. A rumor that he had seduced Orchid Pickerbaugh goes around, turning more people against him. He goes to see Angus Duer at the Rouncefield Clinic in Chicago. Angus says he should come work there, and after some thought Martin decides Angus is right.

In Part 4 Martin is hired by the Rouncefield Clinic. In Part 5 the Nautilus newspapers announce his resignation. Dr. Pickerbaugh writes Martin a letter expressing his disappointment. In Part 6 Martin and Leora Arrowsmith are on their way to Chicago. Martin asserts he is "done with everything but making money."

Analysis

The description of Almus Pickerbaugh's pet project, the health fair, is another example of Sinclair Lewis's biting satire and social commentary. Though Pickerbaugh began as the caricature of an overzealous public health officer, he has in recent chapters become famous. Now he's running for Congress, and his focus has shifted to winning the election. Chapter 23 begins by noting that it is hard to say whether Pickerbaugh stages the health fair for the public good or his own good. He may want to provide "inspiration so powerful that no citizen of Nautilus would ever again dare to be ill," but he also may be seeking a little publicity for his campaign. Pickerbaugh is a politician through and through—that is, a salesman of ideas and of his own image.

The contrast between the public image of the health fair and Lewis's behind-the-scenes look clinches Pickerbaugh's depiction as a salesman and politician. It is more important that things look a certain way than that they truly be that way. The Eugenic Family looks like a clean-living, strapping, healthy family while in reality they are a group of mostly unrelated criminals called the Holton Gang. Martin's part in the health fair involves pouring "a solution of red ink from one test-tube into another" and using a microscope to peer carefully at "nothing at all." The fireman who mans the Clean Up and Prevent Fires exhibit goes behind the exhibit to smoke and ends up setting the place on fire.

The newspaper account of the fire and its aftermath underscores the contrast between reality and the carefully constructed fiction of the health fair. In reality Martin is the one who helps put out the fire, but in the newspapers this heroism is attributed to Dr. Pickerbaugh. Throughout the novel newspapers are shown to be wildly inaccurate—a tool of salesmen, politicians, and gossipmongers rather than vehicles of truth. In this section the newspapers join in the health fair hype by promising to publish three columns each day praising the fair. They also unfairly blame a death at the clinic on Martin's negligence. The picture is of a society that is more show than substance, in which salesmen and storytellers win wealth and power. Those who long for a more authentic life, one of substance over show, are fighting an uphill battle. And so it is for Martin, Max Gottlieb, Leora Arrowsmith, and those like them. It's no wonder that, after his struggles in Nautilus, Martin wants to just give up and focus on making money. Trying to do good work seems like a losing game when society rewards the Pickerbaughs of the world and not the Gottliebs.

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