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Arrowsmith

Sinclair Lewis

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Plot Overview

Sinclair Lewis was born on February 7th, 1885 in the small town of Sauk Centre Minnesota as the youngest member in a family of three boys. His father, like the protagonist of the Arrowsmith, was a doctor who had amassed a reasonable fortune and believed in the ethics of rules and hard work, which later displayed itself in Lewis' writing habits. Lewis, when writing a novel, always maintained a rigid writing schedule that consisted of long hours and much determination.

As a boy, growing up in Sauk Centre, Lewis was bookish and somewhat awkward, though not all-together unpopular in high school. His town of Sauk Centre appears over and over again in Lewis' satire of provincial small-town American life, as seen for instance, in Main Street, Lewis' first major success. Sauk Centre also shows itself in the form of Wheatsylvania in Arrowsmith. And, although Martin Arrowsmith, the protagonist of the novel, is more of a laboratory scientist than a physician, Lewis has Martin become the small-town doctor his father had been, if only for a while.

Lewis graduated from high school in 1902 and went to Oberlin for a year in preparation for Yale. During the fall of his senior year, Lewis left Yale and joined Upton Sinclair's writer/painter colony at Helicon Hall in Englewood, New Jersey, only to return to Yale and graduate in 1908. Between 1908–1915, Lewis traveled and held a number of freelance and editorial positions and published his first novel in 1912, entitled: Hike and the Aeroplane, under the pseudonym of Tom Graham. It is not until 1920, however, when Main Street was published, that Lewis becomes an established writer. After which, Lewis went on to write well-known and well-received novels like Babbitt and Arrowsmith. Arrowsmith is often said to be Lewis's best novel and is the novel for which he won the Pulitzer Prize—a prize which he declined because of the terms of the award. The Pulitzer was said to be given for the "wholesome atmosphere of American life," and Lewis, the Satirist of Modern America, was not about to accept such an ironic award. Nevertheless, Lewis was to go on and receive other honors and, in 1930, became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

After 1930, his novels declined, and, in 1951, Lewis died of heart disease in Rome. His ashes were buried in his small, American town of Sauk Centre, which he immortalized in love and hate.

It is interesting to note that Arrowsmith was published in the same year as F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. However, Fitzgerald and Lewis could not be more different, although they wrote in and portrayed the same era. Both men lived in a world between wars and in between a post-war economic boom and The Great Depression, yet their portraits of America could not be more different. Lewis's world was not the "Jazz Age" of Fitzgerald's "roaring twenties" full of flappers and parties, it was that of the businessman, the doctor, the provincial man. Lewis was a romantic in many ways as well as a gifted satirist and realist. And, in many ways, Arrowsmith, when juxtaposed against Fitzgerald's world, is an optimistic novel, imbued with romance and a significant amount of faith in its protagonist, Martin Arrowsmith.

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