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Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 31 32 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 31–32 | Summary



Chapter 31

In Part 1 the plague is spreading on the island of St. Hubert, in the West Indies, home to about 100,000 people. The spread is exacerbated by the fact that the ratcatcher of the island has been fired. Those in charge do admit that there is plague on the island. In Part 2 wealthy George William Vertigan dies. In Part 3 there are rumors of the plague but no quarantines or official announcement. A doctor on the island, Dr. Stokes, finally reaches out to Max Gottlieb for help.

Chapter 32

In Part 1 Dr. Stokes's letter reaches Gottlieb, but Gottlieb doesn't rush to help. However, since there have already been rumors that Martin Arrowsmith has a cure for the plague, Gottlieb is pressured to employ it. Ross McGurk is one of those applying pressure. McGurk, of course, wants the institute to become famous. Gottlieb finally acts. But he tells Martin he should treat only half of the people on the island and keep the other half as the experimental control. Gustaf Sondelius accompanies Martin, but he wants to give the phage to everyone on the island. Martin knows this will leave him without conclusive evidence that the phage works. Sondelius says this is heartless.

In Part 2 Leora Arrowsmith insists on coming to the island, despite the objections of just about everyone. In Part 3 Sondelius refuses to be vaccinated with the phage until everyone on St. Hubert has received it. Gottlieb and Terry Wickett send Martin off. Gottlieb tells him, "Let nothing, neither beautiful pity nor fear of your own death, keep you from making this plague experiment complete." Wickett tells him to take good notes.

In Part 4 St. Hubert is placed under quarantine. In Part 5 Martin prepares for the trip. In Part 6 Martin, Sondelius, and Leora set off by ship. In Part 7 Martin is seasick and Sondelius is sociable. In Part 8 Martin and Leora spend time together. Martin says when they get back they'll spend more time together, because he knows she's been lonely. She insists she's perfectly content and that she loves him. Part 9 Leora watches Martin sleep and reflects on how much she loves him.


These chapters begin to introduce an ominous tone to the novel. Chapter 31 begins with a description of the plague spreading again across the world, killing people in its path. It is "something invisible in the sun and vigilant by dark, creeping, sinister, ceaseless." Sinclair Lewis still satirizes public figures, such as the surgeon general of St. Hubert, Dr. R. E. Inchcape Jones, but the humor is darker because the stakes are higher. Dr. Inchcape Jones drags his feet before officially declaring there is plague on the island, and his delay costs countless lives. He remains in denial for a very long time—too long. He just can't believe it can be plague, "because there never was plague in St. Hubert." The endless discussions of whether it could be plague, and various controversies including one over firing the ratcatcher, blind the leaders of the island to the obvious truth.

The plague spreading unchecked on the island promises to provide a real-world test for Martin's commitment to the scientific processes he believes in and that Max Gottlieb teaches. Back in medical school, Martin annoyed professors and students alike by constantly critiquing experimental procedures that did not use a control. Now he will be applying this experimental technique to a life-or-death situation. Gottlieb anticipates the ethical challenge Martin will face, telling him: "Let nothing, neither beautiful pity nor fear of your own death, keep you from making this plague experiment complete." Will Martin truly be able risk the lives of the people of St. Hubert in the interest of science? Suspense enters the story with this question.

The suspense is heightened by the amount of time Lewis spends describing the depth of Martin and Leora Arrowsmith's love. The text mentions their plans for future travel several times as they tell each other, "Darling, we will hike off to France together, just you and I, won't we!" It seems entirely possible that tragedy awaits them, making their time together on the ship more poignant.

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