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Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 3–4 | Summary



Chapter 3

In Part 1 John A. Robertshaw, a professor of physiology, gives extraordinarily boring lectures. He also doesn't seem to notice what students are doing during the lectures. Clif Clawson goofs off. Martin Arrowsmith reads Max Gottlieb's scientific papers. Outside of classes Martin and his fraternity brothers complain about memorizing anatomy terms.

In Part 2 the setting shifts to the dissecting room, where there are "many pleasantries," such as someone placing a lit firecracker into a cadaver. One day members of the Board of Regents are on a tour of the campus. Clif Clawson drops a pancreas into the derby hat of one member. Hinkley is sorely tempted to report Clawson, but Angus Duer dissuades him.

Part 3 describes how Martin relaxes in his otherwise stressful life. Often he and Clawson go into the nearby town of Zenith for drinks. Once, Duer takes him to a classical music concert, an entirely new experience for Martin.

Part 4 takes place a week after the concert. Martin takes another university student, Madeline Fox, for a walk along the river. Martin complains fiercely about the other medical students. He says they only care about the money they will make. She agrees that being concerned only with the money is a problem. He feels attracted to her and tries, ineptly and unsuccessfully, to kiss her. Later, he thinks about her lovingly. But then worries over upcoming exams take precedence over romance.

In Part 5 the brothers of Digamma Pi fraternity study for exams. They must help Fatty Pfaff cheat after it becomes clear he can't remember enough information to pass.

In Part 6 the brothers react to the stress of exams. Martin is particularly annoying and constantly talks about Max Gottlieb. Duer tells him "If you think medicine is rot, the way we study it ... why don't you get out?" Martin sees the sense in Duer's statement and asks himself what he really wants.

Part 7 explains Clawson's annoying behavior and Duer's increasing dislike of him. Eventually the tension causes Clawson to resign from the fraternity, and Martin follows suit. Martin gets a summer job installing telephone wires. One day, climbing up a telephone pole, he looks out and sees the vast, lovely prairie and the peaceful farmland all around. He is struck by its beauty. He soon grows to appreciate the simple workmen he spends his days with. However, when summer is over and he is back on the train to school, his thoughts are again filled with Madeline Fox, Clif Clawson, Angus Duer, and Max Gottlieb.

Chapter 4

Part 1 returns to the university, where class is in session. Professor Max Gottlieb is about to infect a guinea pig with anthrax as a demonstration for bacteriology class, and the students are nervous. Gottlieb injects the bacteria into the guinea pigs, advises the students to take good notes, and dismisses the class.

In Part 2 the students react to Gottlieb's demonstration. Duer admires his laboratory technique. Hinkley feels badly about killing animals. Clawson makes jokes. Martin wants to do the same experiment someday.

Part 3 describes the guinea pig's deaths, their dissection, and the students' examination of their blood under the microscope.

Part 4 describes Martin's love for his studies and the pleasure he finds in the bacteriological laboratory. Imitating Gottlieb he begins working in the lab at night. This garners approval from Gottlieb, who even shares some details of his personal life.


Themes of social class and commercialism are introduced in Chapter 3. Angus Duer's experience going to classical music concerts indicates he is of a higher class than Martin Arrowsmith, whose exposure to the arts is minimal. Martin "was illimitably ignorant of literature, of painting, of music." He is much more comfortable getting drunk at a pub with Clif Clawson than listening to classical music. Martin's interactions with Madeline Fox also show signs that the two are not from the same social class. She corrects him when he says "damn" because it isn't a nice word. She reproves him "for wearing flannel shirts, and for his failure to hand her down from street-cars in the manner of a fiction hero." These interactions are just the first few times Martin will feel the tension between being "respectable" and being himself. It will prove to be a constant refrain throughout the novel.

Issues of social class are linked to the theme of commercialism because it takes wealth to achieve the level of respectability required of the upper classes. For a doctor, achieving wealth means considering medical work in monetary terms, not only in terms of lives saved or discoveries made. As Martin realizes this from the attitudes of his fellow students, he becomes increasingly disagreeable. He tells Madeline that the other students only care about making money. She does agree that making money shouldn't be the goal of practicing medicine. However, she also speaks admiringly of another doctor she saw "riding up to the hospital in a lovely car with a chauffeur in uniform." At the same time she says Max Gottlieb wears a "dreadful old suit" and has a shaggy haircut. She says money isn't noble but still values its trappings.

A critical issue in this section is Angus Duer's question, "If you think medicine is rot, the way we study it ... why don't you get out?" Martin thinks, "He's right.... What do I want? What am I going to do?" These questions are the questions Martin must resolve by the end of the novel. But he needs more life experience to help him clarify their answers.

Chapter 4 delves more into the ethical dilemmas scientists sometimes face. Experimenting on guinea pigs is not for everyone, and there are those who believe experimenting on animals is wrong. Characters with this opinion will crop up now and again in the novel. But it is clear Martin will have to make a choice if he is to be a bacteriologist and pursue pure scientific research. He will need to set aside some emotions in the name of scientific inquiry.

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