Literature Study GuidesArrowsmithChapters 35 36 Summary

Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Chapters 35–36 | Summary



Chapter 35

In Part 1 the plague is beginning in the parish of St. Swithin, and Martin Arrowsmith is able to perform his experiment. Those who get the phage do better than those who do not. In Part 2 Martin spends time with Joyce Lanyon (Joyce Arrowsmith). One day they kiss. In Part 3 Martin tries to get in touch with Leora Arrowsmith by phone but is unsuccessful. He decides to go back to St. Hubert and bring her back with him, hoping her presence will be an obstacle between him and Joyce.

In Part 4 the narrative moves back to just after Martin left for St. Swithin. Leora is home alone and missing Martin. After a restless night she forgets to give herself another injection of the phage. That evening she goes into Martin's lab and finds a half-smoked cigarette, which she smokes. Earlier in the day a maid has knocked over a test tube of plague bacteria, contaminating the cigarette. Leora becomes sick and dies lonely, suffering, and calling out for Martin.

In Part 5 Martin arrives and finds her. He is overcome with grief. Over the next weeks he drinks heavily and gives the phage to everyone who wants it, manufacturing more and more. Others take over keeping notes on the effectiveness of the phage. He improves slowly. In Part 6 the quarantine is finally lifted, and Joyce goes back to New York. Martin sees her off then goes to Leora's grave and puts his cheek on the soil. In Part 7 Martin does his best to organize his notes and those of the other doctors. A letter from the McGurk Institute arrives, praising his success. He realizes he will probably get a raise, which Leora would have liked. In Part 8 he prepares to go back to New York. His friends on the island give him a nice dinner and celebratory send-off.

Chapter 36

In Parts 1 and 2 Martin travels back to New York. In Part 3 he mentally prepares himself to face Terry Wickett and Max Gottlieb. In Part 4 he is met by reporters as he disembarks. His friends and coworkers welcome him home. Wickett informs him that Gottlieb isn't doing well and has retired. Martin tells him, "Leora and Gustaf are gone and now maybe Gottlieb." The two pledge to stick together.

In Part 5 Martin goes to the institute, where he receives a hero's welcome. The new director, Dr. Rippleton Holabird, seeks "to use Martin as the prize exhibit of the Institute." Martin feels dazed and confused. In Part 6 the text backtracks a little to describe the first meeting between Martin and Gottlieb after Martin's return. Gottlieb isn't just old and sick; he's senile and barely notices Martin's presence.

In Part 7 Martin takes a room at a hotel because he can't bear to be in his and Leora's old apartment. He goes over his notes on the phage and feels they are inadequate to prove that the phage works. Holabird, however, pushes Martin to publish, and when Martin drags his feet, Holabird publishes the report anyway. Martin is furious. He throws himself into his research. He publishes another paper on the effect of various rays on a different phage. It is received well.


These heartbreaking chapters illustrate the messiness of real life and the difficulty of trying to stay apart from it. Leora Arrowsmith's death is a terrible blow made all the worse by Martin Arrowsmith's guilt. As Leora was dying, infected by substances from his own lab, Martin was pursuing his relationship with another woman, Joyce Lanyon (Joyce Arrowsmith). His guilt and sense of inadequacy come to a head here: now he feels like a failure both personally and professionally. There are mixed results from his use of the phage on the plague. On the one hand, there are strong indications that the phage works. But on the other hand there are no methodical, impartial notes to prove its effectiveness. Furthermore, when Martin returns to New York, he finds himself reimmersed in a culture that thrives on spectacle, sensationalism, money, and competition. This only makes his personal grief more poignant, because while the world around him rejoices, he is left to mourn Leora.

Ultimately, Martin never really has to face the ethical dilemma of whether to save the people in front of him or use them as an experiment to save more people later. His grief prompts him to take emotionally based actions, treating everyone possible and saving lives with reckless abandon. However, his experience in the field may make him a more conscientious scientist.

These chapters wrap up Martin's relationship with Max Gottlieb and establish his friendship with Terry Wickett as the main relationship going forward. Letting go of Gottlieb as a mentor and teacher is difficult. Gottlieb is not dead, but his mind is gone, though in some ways Martin is comforted by this. He is told: "[Gottlieb] was always so fond of you. You don't know how he talked of you and the splendid experiment you've been doing in St. Hubert." Gottlieb never knows that Martin ultimately "failed" by Gottlieb's standards. The relationship ends on a happy note. With Leora and Gustaf Sondelius also gone, the friendship with Wickett becomes Martin's lifeline: "There was nothing for him but work and the harsh friendship of Terry Wickett."

Lewis uses Martin's return to New York to take a satirical look at Americans' superior attitude toward the rest of the world. Martin is elevated as a generic representative of America's heroic role in the world. "America ... always rescuing the world from something or other, had gone and done it again." Lewis goes on to note America's nefarious activities, including invasion and occupation, toward other countries it deems less advanced: "There was at the time ... a doubt as to how benevolent the United States had been to its Little Brothers—Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua." Everyone is glad that Martin has helped to put these doubts to rest. The phrase "Little Brothers" suggests that America sees itself as a wiser older sibling in a world of children. The experience on the island also gives Lewis the chance to note how prejudiced everyone is against the very skilled black doctor they meet, since they doubt he will have the same capacities as they do. Highlighting American hypocrisy and prejudice is an integral part of Lewis's social critique.

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