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Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 27 28 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 27–28 | Summary



Chapter 27

In Part 1 Martin Arrowsmith begins his lab work. Although it is often tedious, Martin hardly notices. Max Gottlieb is encouraging and patiently tells him when he's made an error, praising his curiosity. In Part 2 the novel mentions that the Great War—World War I (1914–18)—has begun in Europe. Then Sinclair Lewis introduces Capitola McGurk, Ross McGurk's wife, who constantly antagonizes Gottlieb. Part 3 describes the dinner parties that Capitola hosts, which are filled with important people such as famous doctors and ex-ambassadors. At these parties Dr. Rippleton Holabird tends to be charming, Terry Wickett is rude and annoying, and Martin and Leora Arrowsmith are mostly silent.

In Part 4 Martin still enjoys his job, but he begins to see that each of his colleagues has their faults and they are secretly divided into factions. However, the laboratory provides a welcome retreat from the melodramas of his coworkers.

In Part 5 Gottlieb tells Martin he should "stop puttering and go to work." He and Wickett explain that in order to do really good work, Martin is going to have to learn some math. His pride is stung, but he soon begins studying algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry, differential calculus, chemistry, and physical science. Then the United States enters World War I.

In Part 6 the McGurk Institute serves the war cause, and Wickett joins up and goes overseas to fight. Martin has to wear a military uniform at work. In Part 7 Gottlieb, a German, feels badly that his family and friends still in Germany are on the wrong side of the war. He also faces discrimination. In Part 8 Martin pursues his research and tries to cheer up Leora and Gottlieb.

Chapter 28

In Part 1 Martin is working at the lab when he notices a colony of staphylococci bacteria he's been incubating has mysteriously died. He wants to find out why. He does some experimenting and tests and retests. He is finally convinced that he's discovered something that will kill staph bacteria. He calls it "the X Principle." In Part 2 he feels certain enough to share his findings with Gottlieb. Gottlieb has some good suggestions for further testing, and he warns Martin not to "let the Director know about this and get enthusiastic too soon." In Part 3 Martin is in a "madness of overwork" and begins losing his physical and mental health, developing all kinds of neuroses. He spends four days in the woods of Vermont by himself and returns to work feeling a little better.


In these chapters Martin Arrowsmith begins his new job at the McGurk Institute, and it isn't too long before he begins to see that it isn't perfect. The dinner parties, populated by powerful and wealthy people, are the same in New York as they've been everywhere else Martin and Leora Arrowsmith have lived. They are a chance for the wealthy to pat themselves on the back and tell each other how wonderful they are. Martin's colleagues at McGurk are not all perfect, either. They have their little dramas and games. So what is different about McGurk? First, there is the presence of Max Gottlieb, and then, a new friendship with Terry Wickett. Both these men are people others find rude—and Martin found them rude as well, when he first met them. It turns out their rudeness is really just honesty. Another clue that Wickett and Martin are destined to be friends is the description of Wickett as a "barbarian." This is the same term Leora used to describe Martin. And as expected, the friendship soon blossoms. Wickett gives Martin a nickname: Slim. He also offers to tutor him in math: "My own math isn't any too good, Slim, but if you'd like to have me come around evenings and tutor you—Free, I mean!"

Despite Gottlieb's renewed influence in his life, Martin still struggles with his desire to be famous and respected. Now that he's made a potential scientific breakthrough, he experiences temptation once again. He has "visions of his name in journals and textbooks; of scientific meetings cheering him." He becomes careless, even letting a doctor test his Principle X before reporting it to Gottlieb. But Gottlieb brings Martin back down to earth. He chides him for focusing on what Principle X can do, a doctor's concern, rather than on its true nature, the concern of the scientist. Gottlieb puts it this way: "You want to be a miracle man, and not a scientist?" Martin clearly is not sure what he wants—or else he doesn't have the temperament to be a scientist. It's the same, familiar conflict, and one he will continue to face over and over.

The healing nature of the Vermont wilderness, and its ability to sooth Martin's overwork and anxieties, is introduced in Chapter 28. This foreshadows the end of the novel, when Martin decides to do his work in a remote part of Vermont.

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