Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
In the novel "Arrowsmith", by Sinclair Lewis, written in
1925, one can read of our world's lack of idealism in
science, most often found in the medical profession
(Encarta, 1). This book portrays the times in terms of
scientific advancement not being idealistic, mostly in the
medical field. Our scientists could not come up with their
own ideas and our progress was going nowhere, fast.
Although, today we are advancing so rapidly that we have no
choice but to move and experiment, there is no time to slow
down and copy old works. Sinclair Lewis also combines his
life and the life of a graduating microbiologists, who he
interviewed to help him write this book, into his main
character, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith. All of this goes into the
Sinclair lewis was born on the seventh of February, 1885,
in the town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, to his warmhearted
parents, Emma Kermont Lewis and Dr. Edwin J. Lewis. At a
very young age Sinclair read widely in grade school and
continued on in his studies for many years (Grebstein, 16).
Lewis studied at Yale University form 1903 till 1906. There
he studied literary writings and works to help him become a
writer. His father had disagreed with his career choice,
but he went on and did what he wanted to do most, write. At
one time he was so disgusted with his father that he ran
away and tried to join the Spanish-American War as a
drummer boy (Cobletz, 248). He did not get far; his father
caught him before he left town. Back to collage he went and
even through collage Lewis still read many books. One
professor was quoted as saying "He was drawing more books
from the Yale library than, I believe, any undergraduates
before or since." Lewis was known to read such books from
authors Hardy, Meredith, James, Howells, Austen, Bronte,
Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol, Flaubert, Zola, Huneker,
Pinero, Jones, Shaw, d'Annunzio, Sudermann, Yeats, George
Moore, Nietzsche, Haeckel, Huxley, Moody, Marx, Gorky,
Blake, Pater, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Rossetti,
Swinburne, Clough, and Ibsen. All of these authors were
influential to him, but none more than the famous H. G.
Wells (Grebstein 24).
He accomplished all this during college while keeping two
or more jobs at one time and writing for several papers
along with his own books that he wrote. In October of 1906
he left school for a few months and stayed with his brother
in his utopian colony in New Jersey. A few months later he
remembered the work ethics his father taught him and went
back to school and got his degree in 1907. After that he
traveled around the world looking for jobs. He worked at
such places as the Panama Canal, New York Post newspaper,
he worked as a editor for many other papers, he sold some
of his story ideas to Jack London, and of course he still
wrote free lance (Light, 196). Finally he published his
first work in 1912," Hike and the Aeroplane", under his
pseudonym Tom Graham. Many books followed.
He published a total of twenty two works written along with
a few playwrights and movie scripts. He was also married,
and divorced to Grace Livingstone Hegger with whom he had a
son Wells Lewis, and he also married Dorothy Thompson, whom
he also divorced, and had another son, Michael Lewis.
During his career he had done many of things but none more
unpredictable than when he declined the Pulitzer Prize for
his book entitled "Arrowsmith". It seemed that he still had
grievances with the committee for declined the award to his
previous book, Main Street. This decline of such a
prestigious award was talked about for months (Light, 171).
Not everyone understood exactly why he declined this award,
but he made it up in 1930 when he was named the first
American to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. He was
also elected into a very prestigious institute in 1935, The
National Institute of Arts and Literature. Then one year
later he was awarded an honorary degree by Yale University.
Then just three more years later he was inducted into the
Academy of Arts and Literature
(Goblentz, 36). Lewis was also a teacher for a few years;
he taught some writing classes for the University of
Wisconsin and Yale. He was also asked to participate in
many lectures, which at first he was reluctant to do, but
he began to like them. Though, through all this Sinclair
Lewis lived till 1951 at an age of 65. He died almost a
month before his 66 birthday, in Rome, Italy. He was
cremated and his ashes were buried in his home town of Sauk
Centre, Minnesota (Light, 154). That same year, only a few
months after his death his final book, "World So Wide", was
published posthumously (Grebstein, 37).
Sinclair Lewis's life could be summed up into three parts.
First, his early years. These were the years that were most
influential to him, he read constantly with much variety.
This is also where he started his career off. He was an
apprentice to many publishers and papers. His first works
were written in this time also. Second, was the prime of
his life and quite possibly the prime of his career. All
his time was spent into creating his five best novels, Main
Street (1920), Babbit (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer
Gantry (1927), and Dodsworth (1929), plus two lesser
novels, Mantrap (1926), and The Man Who Knew Coolidge
(1928) (Grebstein, 69). In these novels he portrayed
unheard of ideas and thoughts. The public fought him, but
he was too famous; every one of his books had made to best
seller status. In this time he had also been awarded the
Pulitzer Prize, declined the award, and moved on to be the
first American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
(Grebstein, 86). Also in this time he was married twice and
had two wonderful kids. This was truly a great time for
Lewis. Finally the last part of his life, the decline. This
must happen in everyone's life some time or another. There
is not a lot to say, after 1940 things just started to go
down the tubes. He divorced his second wife, he had
troubles writing, and his health was slowly leaving him.
Sinclair Lewis's writings were new to his times, it helped
to bring about change and realization in his time (Light,
30). In the early nineteen hundreds our country was
changing very rapidly with technological advances and
industry mass producing our needs. Sinclair Lewis kept up
with the changing times, as seen in his writings, while
most people were still adjusting and being left behind.
In Lewis's life there was no one event that helped to shape
his writing and his life, instead, it was society as a
whole changing and keeping up with itself that influenced
him. For his times his writing was new and considered not
acceptable by some people still being left behind in the
wave of our advanced society. As a young boy he read a vast
variety of new authors who influenced him into becoming a
writer. It was this new style of writing, that conformed to
the times, that helped him become such a famous writer.
Sinclair Lewis, a famous writer? That is what most people
tend to think even though there are some that say he is a
dry and boring writer. I tend to think of him as a great
writer after having read two of his books, "Arrowsmith",
and "Main Street". In "Arrowsmith", Lewis focuses on two
major devices, or themes. One was the theme seen throughout
all of his books, the lack of values in middle-class
America, specifically spiritual and intellectual values
combined with monotony and emotional frustration. This is
just saying that we as a people have regressed and become
lesser of a what we were before. Lewis seemed to think our
society was changing for the worst. Second was his views on
our lack of scientific idealism in the medical profession.
This is saying that our advance in science, especially the
medical field, has been slow and uneventful. He seems to
think that we had been a step behind from everyone else and
copying others' ideas to help advance more quickly. We
could not come up with ideas of our own.
The book is based upon the life and advances of a medical
scientist, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith. Lewis explains how,
during the course of his life, Dr. Arrowsmith portrays
these two major themes. Dr. Arrowsmith would work his
hardest and still always find himself trailing behind
others. In the process of trying to catch up to everyone
else, he also finds his middle-class American profile turn
back towards the right direction of progression and back to
the good old-fashioned values of life which many people had
forgotten. Lewis ended the book with Dr. Martin Arrowsmith
saying "We'll plug along doing our best and if not, we
fail" (Lewis, 464).
Hopefully we all will succeed. In the early nineteen
hundreds many people had lost their traditional values and
fallen behind in society because we were moving so fast and
it was much easier than trying to keep up with everything.
Today it is the same way, society is changing so rapidly
now that if you stop for one minute everyone else passes
you by and you have to work to catch back up. The book
"Arrowsmith" is saying that when society changes we can't
break down and fall apart; we must stay together and move
on, gaining speed as we move along and if we stumble we
have to get right back up and keep moving.
This book is very much a part of the times in which it was
written and it also relates to today's society. Always
moving, always advancing, trying to keep up. All of this
makes Lewis' writings unique, the novel itself was
interesting and fun to read. It teaches you about the
nineteen twenties and of Sinclair Lewis himself. It is not
very often that a book of this magnitude comes out and
The book, "Arrowsmith", was a Pulitzer Prize winner that
was declined out of dislike. Sinclair Lewis is a great
writer who knew the times and portrayed them well. He lived
a full and rich life, his works were all best sellers, and
he helped shape and mold society.
Coblentz, Stantona. "(Harry) Sinclair Lewis." All works
reprinted in 20th Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 12, Ed.
Mencken, H. L. Chicago: Gale Research, 1987. 254-257.
Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Twayne
Publishers, Inc., 1962
"Lewis, (Harry) Sinclair." Microsoft Encarta. 1993 ed.
Lewis, Sinclair. Arrowsmith. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and
Light, Martin, ed. CDALB-Sinclair Lewis. 1917-1929.
Detroit: Gale Research Inc., Michigan, 1989. 5 vol.
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