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Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 33 34 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 33–34 | Summary



Chapter 33

In Part 1 the ship bearing Martin Arrowsmith, Gustaf Sondelius, and Leora Arrowsmith nears St. Hubert. Martin realizes that once they leave the ship and step foot on the island they'll have to stay there until the quarantine is lifted. In Part 2 they arrive and begin to disembark. A mysterious woman dressed in black appears on deck and disembarks with the medical team. On seeing her Martin becomes anxious and tells Leora she can still go back. She still refuses. Dr. Stokes meets them. As they arrive at the hotel, Martin sees a woman and a child following a wagon filled with dead bodies. He realizes he could have saved them with the phage. They carry their own luggage to their rooms because the boys who do this job have died.

In Part 3 they are visited by the surgeon general, Dr. R. E. Inchcape Jones, who agrees to let Martin work in a lab and Sondelius try to exterminate the rats. Their next visitor is Rev. Ira Hinkley from Winnemac. He's on the island to save souls and makes sure to tell those dying of the plague to repent before they die or they'll go to hell. Once he leaves, Martin and Sondelius go outside. Signs of death and misery are everywhere.

In Part 4 Dr. Inchcape Jones takes them to a makeshift plague hospital. Martin feels humble in the face of so much death. In Part 5 Dr. Inchcape Jones shows them to a bungalow where they can live because its owner is dead. An African American doctor named Dr. Oliver Marchand stops by to talk about the phage with Martin. In Part 6 Sondelius uses his charisma and experience to move forward with his rat-killing agenda. His methods are extreme but effective.

Chapter 34

In Part 1 Martin visits the village of Carib, which the plague has devastated. Martin is sorely tempted to abandon the idea of giving the phage to only half the people. Dr. Inchcape Jones, like Sondelius, is firmly against this heartless course anyway. In Part 2 Martin goes to visit the governor, Colonel Sir Robert Fairlamb, and his wife, Lady Fairlamb. The governor is also against using the island as an experiment. In Part 3 Martin has a meeting with a special board to whom he explains his plan. They don't like the idea of withholding treatment from half the people. Ira Hinkley becomes enraged and accuses Martin of being unqualified, a fool, and a liar. Sondelius defends Martin, even though he is against the experiment. Martin once again tries to convince Sondelius to take the medicine. Sondelius refuses again. A few days later Martin learns that Ira Hinkley has died.

In Part 4 Martin decides to give everyone in Carib a dose of the phage. The plague rate lessens slightly there. Sondelius takes a group of rat-killers, moves all the people out of Carib, and burns the town to the ground to kill infected rodents. He helps the villagers set up tents to live in. But a few days later he comes down with the plague and soon dies. Despite this, in Part 5 Martin is still holding out on giving everyone the phage. Dr. Inchcape Jones commits suicide. In Part 6 Dr. Stokes is appointed surgeon general, and he gives Martin permission to do the experiment. In Part 7 Martin meets Joyce Lanyon (Joyce Arrowsmith), a wealthy widow from New York who had been visiting her plantations when the quarantine began. He is amazed at how much she looks like she could be his own sister. Martin is surprised and dismayed by the fact that he feels attracted to her.


The suspense is heightened by the presence of a mysterious woman who accompanies Martin and Leora Arrowsmith and Gustaf Sondelius on the journey to St. Hubert. This figure is a "thin woman in black whom they had not seen all the trip." She emerges and comes onto the deck of the ship, then gets into the launch to go to the island. Martin is seized with fear and tells Leora, "Quick! You can still go back! You must!" Though he dismisses his fear as imagination, in the end, it turns out he was right to want to send Leora back.

In these chapters the ethical dilemma Martin faces comes into focus and becomes an ethical crisis. Though he's had patients die before, the widespread suffering and death caused by the plague are in a different league. One of the first sights Martin sees when he gets to the island is a woman and child following an open wagon heaped with bodies. Martin says to himself "I might have saved them all, with phage." He is torn between his visceral desire to save everyone and the importance of adhering to experimental procedures, including a control. Martin sees now that being distant from the plague's effects made it easier to think about the problem impersonally: "the work that in distant New York had seemed dramatic and joyful ... stank now of the charnel house." In Chapter 34 the dilemma is described in numerical terms: "he had ... been tempted to forget experimentation, to give up the possible saving of millions for the immediate saving of thousands." There's no easy answer. Patience seems to be a necessary virtue in science, but patience in a plague-infested place also means delay, and that means more deaths.

For the first time Martin is humbled. He is humbled by the overwhelming problem of the plague and by interactions with new people in this new place. Chapter 33 notes that "Martin did not feel superior to humanity." His frustration at the situation is also apparent as he exclaims: "I wish people wouldn't keep showing me how much I don't know!" He's not the only one who is overwhelmed. The problem is clearly too much for Dr. Inchcape Jones, who fails spectacularly and then kills himself.

Sondelius seems to be the only one flourishing. He has experience with large-scale epidemics and quickly and springs into heroic action. He makes plans, rallies the troops, and wages war on the rats with gusto. He's held up as an example of someone who, though extroverted, is not egotistical. In a moment of rare praise the text describes Sondelius as "the most brilliant as well as the least pompous and therefore least appreciated warrior against epidemics that the world has known." This description suggests that those who are not pompous do not get the credit they deserve, an unfortunate truth here highlighted by Lewis. Shortly after this, Sondelius is killed by the disease, the very opponent he is battling—a hero's death after all.

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