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Arrowsmith | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Arrowsmith | Quotes


They's a whole lot of new things I aim to be seeing!

Emmy, Chapter 1

The novel opens with a short narrative about a young frontier woman who must take over caring for her family when her mother dies and her father falls ill. Instead of playing it safe and diverting from their westward route to seek help from extended family, Emmy decides to carry on toward the West. Her adventurous spirit and drive to make new discoveries is captured in this quote. As a lead-in to the rest of the story, the novel reveals that Emmy was the great-grandmother of Martin Arrowsmith. Like his great-grandmother, Martin makes his way in the world without help from his parents and is driven to see, or discover, new and exciting things.


Its products ... are beautifully standardized, with perfectly interchangeable parts.

Narrator, Chapter 2

The initial description of the University of Winnemac is satirical in tone. It compares the university to a Ford Motor factory, producing graduates as similar as cars coming off the assembly line. The graduates will "lead moral lives, play bridge, drive good cars, be enterprising in business." They will also talk about books but are not expected to have enough free time to read them. This comparison also emphasizes the ties and tension between research and commercialism. The university is a place of research, but the way it is run and the values of its graduates are described in commercial terms.


I teach them right away the ultimate lesson of science, which is to wait and doubt.

Max Gottlieb, Chapter 2

Professor Max Gottlieb is Martin Arrowsmith's second hero, inspiration, and mentor. When Martin bursts in and asks to take bacteriology in his first year instead of waiting until his second year, Gottlieb identifies Martin as a rare kind of student who actually wishes to become a scientist. He begins by teaching him this "ultimate lesson." This means Gottlieb sends him away, telling him he must wait a year to take his bacteriology course. But the patience (waiting) and questioning (doubt) of this early lesson apply to all of science.


He knew that this girl was of his own people.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Before Martin Arrowsmith falls in love with Leora Tozer (Leora Arrowsmith), he is engaged to Madeline Fox, a woman who is refined and upper class. This is not a good fit: Madeline takes it upon herself to "improve" Martin, making him into the debonair doctor she wants to marry. Leora is the opposite, and Martin finds in her a kindred spirit. She is "vulgar, jocular, unreticent ... gallant ... full of laughter at humbugs" and extraordinarily loyal.


He owned and commanded the city.

Narrator, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 transitions from Martin Arrowsmith's university years to his years as an intern at Zenith General Hospital. The tone of the chapter's opening scene is melodramatic and satirical, painting Martin as the heroic doctor speeding around town saving lives. This melodramatic language pokes fun at the overconfidence and self-importance of Martin and the other young doctors.


He was homesick for the laboratory, for the thrill of uncharted discoveries, the quest below the surface.

Narrator, Chapter 11

In Martin Arrowsmith's first year as an intern at the Zenith General Hospital, his days are busy. He seems to relish the varied and dramatic lifestyle of the hospital doctor. However, he nonetheless longs for a different life—the life of the laboratory scientist. Martin's life as a doctor and his desire to return to the laboratory are in tension for the entire novel. Ultimately, he must make a choice to abandon one and pursue the other wholeheartedly.


No one who has listened to the dire 'you can't miss it' has ever failed to miss it.

Narrator, Chapter 15

While in Wheatsylvania, Martin Arrowsmith is called out to treat a young girl, Mary Novak. He must ask for directions to the Novak home and is given directions by one helpful citizen, who adds, "You can't miss it." Though the narrative often reflects the point of view of Martin, here the author's voice seems to shine through. Lewis simply could not pass up the chance to make some sly fun of the small-town attitude of residents of Wheatsylvania.


Are you going on ... stumbling into respectability and having to be dug out again?

Leora Arrowsmith, Chapter 20

Leora's remark comes as she and Martin Arrowsmith are discussing a speech Martin gave that did not impress Leora. Throughout the novel Martin struggles to really be part of social gatherings, such as banquets and dinner parties. There is part of him that prefers the loneliness and solitude of the lab. Leora's no-nonsense approach to being his wife leads her to this honest assessment of his character. He is a "barbarian" by nature, she says, and must be continually brought out of respectable life and returned to this true self. His decision to live in a remote part of Vermont at the end of the novel suggests he ultimately does honor his removed, barbarian side.


We'd be glad to have you do all the research you want, only we'd like it if you went at something practical.

Angus Duer, Chapter 25

When Martin Arrowsmith goes to work in Chicago with Angus Duer, he first determines to only care about making money. He's been disillusioned in his various roles as country doctor and public health officer, and he's ready to sell out and become just like his peers who went into medicine to get rich.

But soon Martin is longing to do research again. When Duer finds out, he cautions Martin to focus on research that is "practical." This is code for lucrative. Martin finds that the profit motive is demotivating. But Duer's words represent a fundamental problem for Martin. Plenty of companies want to do scientific research. but they only want to do scientific research that can turn a profit. They are not interested in research for curiosity's sake, or to better understand or help the world.


But one thing I keep always pure: the religion of a scientist.

Max Gottlieb, Chapter 26

Neither Max Gottlieb nor Martin Arrowsmith is a religious man in the traditional sense. In fact, they seem to think the pursuit of science, which is based on doubt and evidence, is at odds with religion, which is based on faith. However, the novel paints both men as making science into their religion. Gottlieb has a nighttime ritual that is almost like saying bedtime prayers, and here he suggests science must be kept pure, unblemished by other concerns such as commercialism. It is among the most lyrical parts of the novel.


You want to be a miracle man, and not a scientist?

Max Gottlieb, Chapter 28

Max Gottlieb cautions Martin about releasing his phage—which might work against the plague and other infectious diseases—too soon. He notes that if scientists rush to release a medicine without adequately proving how and why it works, they are making a mistake. They are choosing to save just the few people they come into contact with, rather than the millions they could save if they documented everything and really understood what they were dealing with. Martin must make a choice: either save those in front of him and be deemed a miracle worker, or retreat to the lab and work on something that might save larger numbers of people.


This is no longer an age of parochialism but of competition, in art and science just as much as in commerce.

Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs, Chapter 29

Dr. A. DeWitt Tubbs, director of the McGurk Institute, pressures Martin Arrowsmith to publish his discovery of the phage even though Martin feels he should test and verify the results further. Tubbs's commercialism is directly opposed to Martin's ideas of why and how science should take place. While Tubbs believes the competition between pharmaceutical companies is good and necessary, Martin believes this business-like approach is harmful to good science.


Inchcape Jones said that it could not be plague, because there never was plague in St. Hubert.

Narrator, Chapter 31

Dr. R. E. Inchcape Jones is the surgeon general of St. Hubert, and he delays declaring a quarantine on the island for far too long. He is not only incompetent; he is in denial. He can't believe there is plague because he doesn't believe plague on the island is possible. This makes him the opposite of the ideal scientist. A scientist makes observations and draws conclusions from them. They do not let expectations about what should be or what should happen influence the evidence of observation and data. Dr. Inchcape Jones becomes the tragic example of what happens when logic and science are abandoned.


Martin saw ... a crying woman and a bewildered child following an open wagon in which were heaped a dozen stiff bodies.

Narrator, Chapter 33

This image is Martin Arrowsmith's first experience coming face to face with the ethical dilemma of running an experiment using an entire population of people exposed to plague. The suffering of the people is real and visceral. The laboratory is sterile and exciting because the consequences of infectious disease are far away.


I feel as if I were really beginning to work ... maybe we'll get something permanent—and probably we'll fail!

Martin Arrowsmith, Chapter 40

These are the final words of the novel, and they suggest that Martin Arrowsmith is setting out on a new chapter of life, one in which he will be unencumbered by those things that plagued him before—commercialism, social obligations, even family. He fully embraces the practice of science, including the possibility of failure, which in a commercial setting would be problematic. In pure science, failure is just another data point—as good as any other in the pursuit of the truth. Together Martin and Terry wickett can go past any failure they encounter.

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