After a year at McGurk, Martin begins to feel badly about not haven gotten anywhere with his research, when suddenly he comes upon a huge discovery. He discovers that the bacterial growth in his test tube is gone as a result of a broth he had used. He works day and night and discovers that whatever it is that is killing the bacteria can also prevent the bacteria from growing. He calls his discovery "The X Principle." He does not know what the nature of the X Principle is—whether it is organic or chemical (an enzyme perhaps)—but it this is precisely what he wants to find out.
When Martin is certain that "The X Principle" reproduces itself and causes the same results through endless attempts and experiments, it is then that he goes to Gottlieb. Gottlieb adds many new questions to Martin's research and humbles him by adding new angles; however, Gottlieb is happy for Martin and recognizes that he has struck something big. He then proceeds to tell Martin to make sure that he does not tell any of the directors until he has enough information and until he is sure of what he has.
Martin keeps the principle from the heads but allows a doctor at the Lower Manhattan Hospital to use it to cure boils. Gottlieb becomes upset because he has allowed incomplete results out into the world.
Martin is sleep-deprived from so much work and feels guilty, at times, for abandoning Leora. He becomes somewhat mad with work and has visions and phobias. He needs to rest.
The institute is beginning to wonder what Martin is up to, and Tubbs approaches him, telling him that Martin must tell him what he has discovered since he (Tubbs) is the director of the institute. Martin is, therefore, forced to relinquish his discoveries. Tubbs becomes immediately excited and makes plans for Martin: he decides to submit a plan to the Board of Trustees for a Microbic Pathology Department, which Martin shall head. Martin shall have his own assistant, technicians—anything he needs. Plus, Martin is to be given a raise and is to receive a salary of ten thousand dollars. Tubbs plans everything down to their "cooperative" publication, in which Holabird also wants to become involved. Tubbs consistently applies pressure on Martin to publish.
Martin begins to feel as though his work is being taken away from him and goes to Gottlieb for help, but Gottlieb is unable to help, although he tries. A dinner is given in Martin's honor at which Capitola inquires without much true interest about what he is doing in the laboratory that is making so much fuss. Soon after, however, Gottlieb informs Martin that someone has already discovered the X Principle and published the results. The French scientist D'Herelle had given it another name, however: Bacteriophage. Tubbs soon finds out and informs Martin that "the plan" was no longer—there is to be no raise and no new department.
Martin is upset by all of this, but he decides to continue his research and add to what D'Herelle has already published.
Terry Wickett returns from war, and Martin continues working on his phage experiments. Tubbs approaches him and tells him he must put the phage to practical use and run experiments using the phage on pneumonia, plague, typhoid, and so on. Martin, for fear of losing his job, is forced to abandon his search for the "fundamental nature of phage" and turn to studying its healing purposes. Martin finds that he can cure pleuro-pneumonia in rabbits and is excited about his results.
Meanwhile, Tubbs resigns in order to start, along with the millionaire Pete Minnigen, the "League of Cultural Agencies," which, according to the narrator, is an agency that is meant to "standardize and co-ordinate all mental activities in America." The institute is left to find a new director and, after much fighting for the position on behalf of Holabird, Pearl Robbins, and even Dean Silva of Winnemac, the position is given, surprisingly, to Max Gottlieb, who accepts.
Under Max Gottlieb there is hardly any standardization and organization and, thus, the institute begins to fall apart.
Meanwhile, Gustaf Sondelius has come back from a sleeping sickness study in Africa with plans to found a school for tropical medicine in New York. However, Sondelius soon becomes Martin's assistant when he begins to make advances with his phage concerning the plague. Martin begins to make experiments that show the possibility of curing the plague with the phage, and Sondelius offers his help for free.
The pressure that the commercial world of the institute applies on scientists is heightened in these chapters. Gottlieb, speaking from his own experiences at the Hunziker Company, advises Martin not to share his results with the department heads and directors at McGurk. And yet, Martin is forced to share his results if he does not want to lose his job. The director immediately moves Martin to publish because of a fierce competition that exists within the medical profession—one that existed at the time in which this book was written and one that exists until this day. Under the guise of "helping humanity" Tubbs pressures Martin to publish and makes a plan for Martin's discovery, writing himself into the glory of the discovery.
When the news is released that someone else has published first, Tubbs takes on an "I told you so attitude" and refuses Martin all the benefits he had promised. Nevertheless, it seems almost impossible for the scientist to exist without these institutions for financial reasons. It would be very expensive to create one's own lab facilities and to create the connections needed to publish and "succeed." Even Gottlieb, who hates the commercial world of science more than anyone in the novel, does not leave the institution. Gottlieb is completely against commercialism because he is a perfectionist who becomes angry when the powers that be do not allow him to fully complete his research, for an experiment is not complete until one can understand the "fundamental nature" of what is occurring, and it is only then that the discovery of the scientist can truly be of help. Even so, he even accepts a position as director of McGurk when Tubbs resigns. Furthermore, even Gottlieb is not altogether incorruptible. For, even though he has good intentions (a vision of a laboratory dedicated to "pure science", he does not pas up the opportunity of a directorship.
In a way, people like Tubbs are necessary in the scientific world. The laboratory scientist, himself, does not have the business savvy required to run an institution, as is proven by the failure of Gottlieb's venture as director. And, thus, even if the institutions and institution heads are corrupt and commercial, it is evident that they are necessary. This does not diminish Lewis's critique, it simply complicates the matter, as it is in reality.
The character of Sondelius is important because of his willingness to work for what he believes. He works for free, which even Terry Wickett and Martin Arrowsmith will not do. Perhaps, Sondelius is gratified with other forms of success aside from money. Perhaps he is more content with fame or power, although this would be the pessimistic way of assessing Sondelius's character. Looking at him in a positive light, one might say that he has a true desire to care for his fellow man and to rid the world of disease. Perhaps his desire to venture out into the "tropics" and study different diseases is purely altruistic. Perhaps it is a little of both.
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