Bildungsroman, satire, American novel


An anonymous, third-person, omniscient narrator

Point of view 

The third-person omniscient narrator mostly follows the life of Martin Arrowsmith, marking the narration with his opinions. However, there are episodes in which the narrator travels through the thoughts of other characters, yet the narrator mostly seems to express the opinions of the protagonist and author, even if it is through farce or satire.


Critical and satirical. Often humorous, serious in intent (even didactic at times), and yet, optimistic, by the end


Mostly past tense, sometimes drifting into the actual moments being narrated and switching to the present tense

Setting (time) 

The novel encompasses the early part of the twentieth century, spanning from the early 1900s to post-WWI.

Setting (place) 

The novel is mostly set in America with a brief stint in the Caribbean (on the island of St. Hubert). The narration follows Martin from the provincial Elk Mills, to Winnemac, to the small city of Nautilus, to Chicago, to New York, and, finally to Vermont. These places are meant to represent most of the United States.


Martin Arrowsmith

Major conflict 

Martin's major conflict is remaining true to his research and his search for truth through constant temptations: science versus commercialism.

Rising action 

Martin moves from job to job, from institution to institution, and from town to town. He is a doctor in Wheatsylvania, a public Health officer in Nautilus, a pathologist in Chicago, and a researcher under the wing of the McGurk Institute. All the while he is met with temptations from women, success, power, and fame.


Leora's death in St. Hubert constitutes the first climax because Leora has been Martin's sole companion, and her death causes him to stop his research on the island, to which he had been true up until that point. The second climax is Martin's fight with Joyce Lanyon when he decides to resign from the institute and join Terry Wickett in his private laboratory.

Falling action 

After Leora dies, Martin stops his research only to return to it after he rejects Joyce's friendship, when he has a newfound courage to complete his experiment. Martin returns to New York and becomes well known for his experiments with the phage in the West Indies (even though he believes them to be incomplete). He marries Joyce, does well with his research, and is pressured to publish. It is at this point that the second climax of resigning from the institute comes, after which he retreats to Vermont with Terry.


The first section of the novel—outlining the life of Martin's great- grandmother who has suffered and who, despite it all, remains determined—foreshadows Martin's own life.