by: Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 31–33

Summary Chapters 31–33

First there is the symbolism of the woman in black. When Martin, Leora, and Sondelius step onto the launch that is headed for the island, a woman in black steps on with them. No one knows who she is, and she disappears after they come ashore. She represents death. What is most important about this is that the woman makes certain a terrible foreboding that exists throughout the chapter. For instance, the love between Leora and Martin is visited and re-visited throughout these chapters, to the extent that we feel as if something might happen to Leora or to Martin. The fact that Martin continuously regrets having brought Leora and that he feels fear heightens the sense of foreboding in us, which culminates in the image of the lady in black. Furthermore, we see that the Commission is bringing with it both life and death. In his suitcase, Martin carries the phage, which is life, but the woman in black who arrives with the group is juxtaposed against this. It is the fact that the woman arrives with the group that is most foreboding because it is already evident that death exists on the island. However, when a symbol of death arrives with Leora, Martin, and Sondelius, it points to the fact that something may happen to them.

As far as character, one of the most important characters in these sections is Sondelius. Sondelius takes charge immediately and knows exactly what to do and what to say when and to whom. We must ask ourselves about Sondelius's intentions. It becomes obvious that Sondelius loves thrill, adventure, and even the power that comes with heroic actions. It is also apparent that he has a bit of the martyr in him, when, for instance, he refuses to take the phage until it is dispensed to all of the people on the island. However, it is of utmost importance that we realize that these are not Sondelius's only motivations, because Sondelius is one of the few characters in the novel that, although raucous, has a good heart. After he fumigates warehouses and feels sorry for the straggling men who went unnoticed, and he stays behind to die with the rats—the tramps, vagabonds, and stowaways that die with the fumigation. Furthermore, Sondelius is efficient and chapter 33 ends with the following words: It happened that he [Sondelius] was, without Martin or Gottlieb ever understanding it, the most brilliant as well as the least pompous and therefore the least appreciated warrior against epidemics that the world has known." There are a few things to be said about this last sentence: first there is the element of satire in the wording of "warrior" that was seen previously in Sondelius—a kind of critique of his overzealous spirit. Nevertheless, it is also sincere and, in many ways, is almost like a eulogy, which is praiseful and yet somewhat foreboding as well.