Arrowsmith is a novel written by Sinclair Lewis.


  • Martin Arrowsmith - The novel's title character and protagonist, Martin is a curious young man whose life in the medical profession makes up the plot of the book. He is stubborn and inclined toward laboratory science, rather than the practice of being a physician. He has opposing characteristics and can be both cold and compassionate, both driven and easily swayed. Furthermore, he is a romantic at heart.
  • Doctor Vickerson - A country doctor in Elk Mills, Doc Vickerson was Martin's first introduction to the world of medicine. The doctor is not an all-together educated man although he is supportive of Martin. And, although Doc Vickerson is an alcoholic, he is not altogether unlikable.
  • Max Gottlieb - A German Jew, Max Gottlieb is Martin's mentor. He is a scientist rather than a physician. He is often seen as eccentric and as cold or lacking in compassion although he does have a deep belief in Martin. A patient man, he is utterly driven by a search for "truth" and is fully committed to the study of science.
  • Madeleine Fox - A graduate student at Winnemac University, Madeleine Fox attends the same college as Martin. She eventually becomes his fiancé, but is what Martin calls an "improver." She is a snobbish student of literature who tries to change people, including Martin, to fit her beliefs and her society.
  • Fatty Pfaff - One of Martin's fellow medics, Fatty Pfaff tries his hardest to learn and yet he does not have the brightest mind at Winnemac. In fact, Fatty is the archetypal nice, yet dumb, guy at the University. He eventually becomes an obstetrician.
  • Ira Hinkley - A classmate of Martin's, Ira Hinkley is a preacher who tries to impose his religious beliefs on others. His path crosses Martin's more than once and he eventually betrays Martin. He believes he is doing "good" but is arrogant in his beliefs—most of which are narrow-minded, superior-minded, and colonial.
  • Angus Duer - A good student and successful surgeon, Angus Duer was Martin's rival at medical school. He is a hard worker and always achieves that for which he strives. He believes in success and is the opposite of Martin in many ways.
  • Clif Clawson - The class jester, Clif Clawson, resigns from medical school and becomes a car salesman. He is unorthodox in his business and, in the end, too different from Martin to remain his friend.
  • Leora Tozer - Martin's loyal wife, Leora is opinionated and yet completely supportive and understanding of Martin and his career. She is caring and although ambitionless herself, she is loving and a perfect fit for Martin.
  • Dean Silva - The compassionate physician, Dean Silva is supportive of Martin and epitomizes the "good doctor." He is caring and believes more in the practice of medicine than in research.
  • Dr. A Dewitt Tubbs - The director of the McGurk Institute and later a leading member of the League of Cultural Agencies, Tubbs stands for everything that Martin opposes. He believes wholeheartedly in competition and, not in the individual, but in "cooperation." He is one of the many "salesmen" in the medical industry that exist in the novel. He is criticized by Martin for not being as intelligent as someone in his position should be.
  • Gustaf Sondelius - Neither a laboratory man nor a physician exactly, Sondelius is a one-man army against disease. A captivating speaker, he is compulsive and adventuresome, and yet, often compassionate.
  • Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh - The subject of a great deal of Lewis's satire, Pickerbaugh is the Director of the Department of Public Health in the small city of Nautilus. He campaigns for cleanliness and writes bad poetry about Health and sanitation for his daughters (whom he has named the "Healthette Octette") to sing. He is a great salesman and commercialist.
  • Orchid Pickerbaugh - The oldest daughter of Almus Pickerbaugh, Orchid is a young, flirtatious, and beautiful girl who Martin becomes enamored of Martin and admires his eccentricities and intelligence.
  • Dr. Rippleton Holabird - A department head at McGurk, Holabird has very much the same business mind-set as Tubbs. He believes in competition and success and eventually joins the League of Cultural Agencies with Tubbs. He constantly brags about an old war wound and becomes another foil for Martin's personality.
  • Pearl Robbins - The secretary to Dr. A DeWitt Tubbs at the institute, Miss Pearl Robbins is a beautiful woman who joins the men in competition. From being Tubbs's assistant, she has learned the "business" and even attempts to attain the directorship when Tubbs resigns. When Gottlieb is head of the institute, she basically runs it because of Gottlieb's lack of attention in commercial matters.
  • Terry Wickett - A laboratory scientist much like Gottlieb, Terry Wickett is completely committed to his work. He does not have a family or much of a social life because of this commitment. He is the extreme of what Martin could be, and by the end of the novel he becomes the symbol of freedom and independence. He is very much an individual in a world of "collaborators" and he strives always for what he believes. He is stubborn and thought of as cold, though he and Martin have an "understanding" of each other and are, in fact comrades by the end.
  • Joyce Lanyon - The second wife of Martin Arrowsmith, Joyce Lanyon is a rich woman with whom Martin does not have very much in common. She is a high class "arranger" and a widow who spends her time frivolously and goes to Africa to "save primitive art."


Martin Arrowsmith, the novel's protagonist, is born and raised in the small Midwestern town of Elk Mills where he develops an interest in science and spends his free hours reading through Gray's Anatomy and other books in the office of the town's doctor, Doc Vickerson. This early education is supplemented when he goes off to college and eventually becomes a medical student at the University of Winnemac, where he meets his life-time mentor, Max Gottlieb, a German professor committed to laboratory science and research.

While in medical school, Martin dates a girl named Madeleine Fox, a snobbish, educated doctoral student of literature and becomes engaged to her, only to leave her later for Leora Tozer, a down-to-earth nurse in training, whom he will love and live with until the end of her life. Also, while at Winnemac, under the wing of Gottlieb, Martin develops a deep-rooted love for the laboratory and lashes out against "commercialism" and the faults of the practicing physician versus the ideals of true science and research. Nevertheless, Martin, after graduating from Winnemac, must abandon his "true science" because he has married Leora and now has a wife to support.

Martin and Leora move to Leora's hometown of Wheatsylvania where Martin becomes a country doctor about whom the townspeople gossip. Although he is at times successful, he never gains the trust of the community as a whole and loses a patient, in his early days. Leora also has a miscarriage during their time in Wheatsylvania. Feeling as though he has failed in Wheatsylvania, Martina and Leora move to Nautilus, a city in the Midwest.

In Nautilus, Martin becomes a public health physician, working under Dr. Pickerbaugh, who is more of a salesman than a doctor and who writes verses about hygiene and cleanliness. After being unhappy in Nautilus, Martin is called to the Rouncefield Clinic in Chicago to work with his medical school colleague, with whom he had always been in competition, Angus Duer. His work as a pathologist in the Rouncefield Clinic, however, also proves disheartening given that the Clinic is a playground for doctors who care more for money than anything else.

It is at this point that Martin comes to the attention of Max Gottlieb once again. Gottlieb, who is working at the prestigious McGurk Research Institute in New York (modeled after the Rockefeller Institute in New York), invites Martin to join the research team. He is glad to finally have his chance at laboratory science, the "true science" he had had to abandon. Martin is happy there until he begins to be rushed in his study and work. The heads of the Institute begin to pry into his research in order to apply pressure on Martin to publish and "sell" his work. While at the institute, however, Martin comes across a huge triumph in his research, the isolation of a bacteriophage that seems to kill pneumonia and plague.

Although there is some initial disappointment at finding out that much of his research had already been done and published by another scientist, Martin decides to further his research and is successful in his continuations. Martin is later sent to test his discovery in the Caribbean island of St. Hubert, which is infested with plague. Martin agrees to conduct his experimental research on the quarantined island of St. Hubert. Leora accompanies him.

On the island of St. Hubert, Martin is meant to conduct further research on the phage in order to understand it better, and he does, in fact, seem to cure the people of the plague. However, the research conducted on the island is not altogether precise because Martin had given up on his work for a time, after the tragedy of his wife's (Leora) death due to the plague. Martin goes through a period of mourning in which he abandons his research, a period which he will later be upset by and consider a failure on his behalf.

It is also on the island that Martin meets Joyce Lanyon, an immensely wealthy woman whom he marries when he returns to New York, after Leora's death. Martin, however, cannot grow fully accustomed to his new wife's rich ways and finds himself, once again, unhappy. He, therefore, abandons her and his child with her in order to retreat into the woods with Terry Wickett, his friend and colleague from the McGurk Institute. The book ends with Martin and Terry's plan to build a laboratory in Terry's home in the woods so that they may be left to do the important research they so love and need without the commercial pressure imposed by department heads and the presidents of institutes.


The Magnifying Glass

Doc Vickerson, in the first chapter of the novel, gives Martin a gift to "start his training." This gift is a magnifying glass. This is important because it represents the keen eye and curiosity that both the physician and the scientist must have. It represents the careful and deep observation that Gottlieb lectures to Martin about over and over again. Although Doc Vickerson is, himself, a kind of failure in his alcoholism, his gift is nevertheless laden with significance, elevating Vickerson to the status of man who has had "influence" on the reader's "hero."

Terry Wickett

Terry is the symbol of what Martin could be, and he represents the kind of man that Martin is, in fact, by the end of the novel, the man that Martin follows. He represents the careful scientist who is willing to give everything up for his work. He is Martin without the temptations that have led him astray and, thus, is the true kin of Gottlieb.

The Centrifuge

Gladys the centrifuge at the McGurk institute is Holabird's pride and joy. She is an expensive piece of machinery and the best of her kind and, thus, represents the commercialism and competition present in American medicine.

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