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Arrowsmith Essay Examples

Arrowsmith is a classic American novel written by Sinclair
Lewis. Lewis wrote this book in the early 1900s as a
current outlook on the world of science in that time. The
main theme it focuses on is commercialism and its effect on
science. During this time period there were many advances
in the field of medicine; everyone was racing to find the cure
to deadly diseases and then patent it and profit off it. Helping
humanity was more of a business than a service to the human
race as doctors and institutes became more and more
capitalistic. Like a business trying to maximize its profit,
many doctors and scientists cut corners and guessed at many
things so they could get their products or methods on the
market as fast as possible.

However, there were a few
scientists who stayed strictly devoted to their science, not
letting money, glory, and success corrupt them. Scientists
such as this despised commercialism and held contempt
against the other doctors and scientists who fell into that
system of capitalism. The book follows the life of Martin
Arrowsmith, a scientist who is torn between pure science
and commercialism. He wants to be a true scientist but he is
pushed into commercialism by everyone he meets, except
for a select few. Among the few is Max Gottlieb, who is
Martins model for everything a true scientist should be.

Gottlieb is a bacteriologist who is completely against the
capitalist values of commercial doctors and scientists; he
devotes himself religiously to his science, and he believes in
being completely thorough and not guessing or accepting
things without completely understanding them. Terry
Wickett, a disciple of Gottliebs, holds all the same values
and attitudes as Gottlieb toward capitalism and
commercialism. He helps Martin break away from
commercialism, and become a true scientist. Another person
who greatly helps Martin in his life is his first wife, Leora
Tozer, who stands by and supports Martin no matter what.
She devotes herself to Martin as much as Gottlieb devotes
himself to his science.

She supports him in whatever decision
he decides to make, she helps and comforts him in his times
of need, and she remains completely loyal to him at all times,
even when he is not completely loyal to her. The story starts
with Martin Arrowsmith as a medical student at Winnemac
University, where he was first introduced to commercial
science and pure science, and made to choose between the
two. It is here that Martin first meets Max Gottlieb, who was
a professor and the university and head of the bacteriology
department, and becomes completely in awe of him. His
classmates mock Martin for his choice in idol, because they
see Gottlieb as somewhat of a failure in life, simply because
he is poor and not very high standing or recognized in
society, which is actually what Gottlieb prefers to be. A few
of Martins classmates that have a significant effect on his life
are Ira Hinkley, Angus Duer, and Clif Clawson.

Ira Hinkley
is a humanitarian, self-righteous reverend who later becomes
a missionary in the West Indies. He is studying medicine for
the purpose of helping humanity and gaining glory for himself
along the way. Angus Duer is a social climber who is
studying science more for the sake of obtaining the inherent
respect held for doctors and scientists. He does all the
methods and techniques with a cold precision but only
because he was told to do them, not because he wants to
understand why things are the way they are. Clif Clawson is
completely centered on making money and being successful.
He went into medical school solely because he would be
able to make a lot of money being a doctor or physician.

The university essentially teaches students how to make
money from their knowledge through commercialism, even
more than the actual medical science itself. The following
passage is part of a lesson that Dr. Roscoe Geake, who is a
professor in the university, gives to his students. “Knowledge
is the greatest thing in the medical world but its no good
whatever unless you can sell it, and to do this you must first
impress your personality on the people who have the dollars.
Whether the patient is a new or an old friend, you must
always use salesmanship on him.

Explain to him, also to his
stricken and anxious family, the hard work and thought you
are giving to his case, and so make him feel that the good
you have done him, or intend to do him, is even greater than
the fee you plan to charge. Then, when he gets your bill, he
will not misunderstand or kick.” Martin is constantly being
pushed towards the commercial side of science and away
from Gottlieb and pure science. Almost everyone in the
university is trying to persuade him to do the same as them
and become a practical doctor who works for profit, instead
of a poor scientist who works for years before producing
even the smallest discovery, which may or may not help

Eventually he gives in and leaves Gottlieb to receive
his doctorate and become a physician in Wheatsylvania,
North Dakota, the home town of his fiancee, Leora Tozer.
In Wheatsylvania, Martin is presented with the life of a
commercial physician, and he becomes appalled with it. He
learns that being a physician is more like trying to make it
appear as if you are helping people than actually doing it. He
finds that their main skill is not actually healing the patient,
but dealing with the family after they failed to save the

They glorify their failure by saying they did all they
could and more, and they spread the blame around as to not
detract from their respectability. A physician in a neighboring
town named Doctor Winter gives Martin this advice. “In a
crucial case, you better call some older doctor in
consultationnot that you need his advice, but it makes a hit
with the family, it divides the responsibility, and keeps em
from going around criticizing.”

Disgusted with this, Martin
tries to be an honest physician, but he gets heavily criticized
by all the other physicians and the entire town. The other
doctors criticize him for not asking them for advice and
splitting fees, and the townspeople think he is some hotshot
doctor who believes he is above everyone else, and cares
for no one save himself, which is ironic because he is the
only one who is truly trying to help them. After a while
Martin decides to leave when he receives an offer for a job
in a medical institute in the city of Nautilus where he is led to
believe he will be free to research whatever he wants. In
Nautilus, Martin works in a medical institute under its
director, Dr. Pickerbaugh. Dr. Pickerbaugh supports the
idea of pure science and research and allows Martin
freedom to research whatever he wants, but only to a certain

After Martin has been working a while Pickerbaugh
becomes impatient because so much time has passed and
Martin has not produced anything, so he begins to push
Martin to publish his research and let the world know what
he does. So once again Martin finds himself being pushed
toward commercialism. Pickerbaugh wants him to publish so
that the world may benefit from his work, and also so that
glory and fame may come to Martin and the institute, which
leads toward profit. After a few years Martin decides to
leave after receiving a letter from Max Gottlieb asking him to
work with him in New York.

Gottlieb is working at the
McGurk Institute in New York under director Dr. Tubbs,
who has granted Gottlieb complete freedom in his research.
Dr. Tubbs is a social-climber completely driven by
commercialism. Everything he does, he does to profit himself
and the institution. When Martin comes into the institution,
Tubbs grants him the same freedom as Gottlieb. He is free to
research whatever he wants for as long as he wants, and so
Martin returns to Gottlieb and meets Terry Wickett. For a
while everything goes well until Tubbs learns about Martins
research and tries to get him to publish. Martin is researching
and experimenting with what could possibly be the cure to
many of the deadly diseases at the time, such as tuberculosis
and the Black Death.

He refuses to publish because he has
not finished the research and to publish right away would be
straying away from pure science and towards commercialism
again. Tubbs wants Martin to publish not because it would
help humanity, but because it would bring fame and fortune
to the institute. In commercialism, everything is a race to
discover and produce something and then patent it and take
the credit. We see this when another scientist in another
institute publishes the same discovery on which Martin is
also working.

Tubbs is severely disappointed with Martin for
not publishing sooner so that he could receive the credit and
recognition, and he tells Martin to start working on creating
other cures and publish them quickly. However, Martin
decides to continue research on his current project and see if
the other scientist missed or overlooked anything, which is
approved by Gottlieb.

Throughout this entire time Gottlieb is
helping Martin stay true to science and protect him from
success. In the following passage Gottlieb is telling Martin
what it means to be a true and authentic scientist. “To be a
scientistit is not just a different job, so that a man should
choose between being a scientist and being an explorer or a
bond-salesman or a physician or a king or a farmer. It is a
tangle of ver-y obscure emotions, like mysticism, or wanting
to write poetry; it makes its victim all different from the good
normal man. The normal man, he does not care much what
he does except that he should eat and sleep and make love.
But the scientist is intensely religioushe is so religious that
he will not accept quarter-truths, because they are an insult
to his faith.

“He wants that everything should be subject to
inexorable laws. He is equal opposed to the capitalists who
tink their silly money-grabbing is a system, and to liberals
who tink man is not a fighting animal; he takes both the
American booster and the European aristocrat, and he
ignores all their blithering. Ignores it! All of it! He hates the
preachers who talk their fables, but he iss not too kindly to
the anthropologists and historians who can only make
guesses, yet they have the nerf to call themselves scientists!

Oh, yes, he is a man that all nice good-natured people
should naturally hate! “He speaks no meaner of the
ridiculous faith-healers and chiropractors than e does of the
doctors that want to snatch our science before it is tested
and rush around hoping they heal people, and spoiling all the
clues with their footsteps; and worse than the men like hogs,
worse than the imbeciles who have not even heard of
science, he hates pseudo-scientists, guess-scientistslike
these psycho-analysts; and worse than those comic
dream-scientists he hates the men that are allowed in a clean
kingdom like biology but know only one text-book and how
to lecture to nincompoops all so popular! He is the only real
revolutionary, the authentic scientist, because he alone
knows how liddle he knows. “He must be heartless. He lives
in a cold, clear light.

Yet dis is a funny ting: really, in private,
he is not cold nor heartlessso much less cold than the
Professional Optimists. The world has always been ruled by
the Philanthropists: by the doctors that want to use
therapeutic methods they do not understand, by the soldiers
that want something to defend their country against, by the
preachers that yearn to make everybody listen to them, by
the kind manufacturers that love their workers, by the
eloquent statesmen and soft-hearted authorsand see once
what a fine mess of hell they haf made of the world! Maybe
now it is time for the scientist, who works and searches and
never goes around howling how he loves everybody!”

Because of his research of a cure for the Black Death,
Martin is sent to the West Indies where there is a serious
epidemic of the Plague. He travels there with Leora and
another scientist named Gustaf Sondelius, and meets with his
former classmate, Reverend Ira Hinkley, who is now a
missionary and doctor in the West Indies. Once there,
Martin is faced with the extremely difficult decision between
science and humanity. At this point, his research and tests on
the cure are not complete and it is not certain whether or not
the cure will work.

However, Hinkley, Sondelius, and
everyone else who knows he has a cure are pushing him to
distribute it among the masses. Here he faces the question on
whether he should immediately distribute the cure with the
fairly large possibility of failure, or if he should withhold it
until his tests are complete and he is certain on whether or
not it will work. He has a dream where he gets in a car
crash, and he has to choose between his science and the
lives of others.

“Shrieks, death groans, the creeping
flames. The car turning, falling, plumping into a river on its
side; himself trying to crawl through a window as the water
seeped about his body. Himself standing by the wrenched
car, deciding whether to keep away and protect his sacred
work or go back, rescue people, and be killed.” Martin
chooses to continue his tests and be certain that the cure will
work, as the population continues to be ravaged by the
Plague. During this time, both Hinkley and Sondelius die of
the Plague.

Martin keeps up his work until Leora contracts
the Black Death and dies. In his grief, Martin gives in and
distributes the experimental cure to everyone. After the
epidemic dies out, all the people of the West Indies label
Martin as a hero and a savior, despite what the people
thought of him when he withheld the cure. However, he feels
that he betrayed Gottlieb and his science.

It seems that
commercialism often disguises itself as humanitarianism or
uses humanitarianism to justify itself. It pushes you to act
quickly and hopefully without any of the certainties
demanded by science. For example, the main reason
Sondelius went to the West Indies was to find glory and
fame, rather than the saving the lives of thousands of people.
However, he used humanitarianism as a way to try to
persuade Martin to distribute the cure. When Martin
refused, Sondelius called him a monster and claimed that
Martin was not willing to help the suffering population, nor
did he care about the hundreds of thousands of people dying
from the Plague.

What is ironic about this is that this pure
science tends to benefit humanity more than commercialism
science in the long run. The notion that one significant
improvement over a long period of time is better than a
series of failures and half-successes is drowned out by the
propaganda of commercialism. Pure science produces
methods and medicines that are certain. They have been
thoroughly tested and proved to be successful, as opposed
to the medicines produced by commercial scientists. While
they produce more, they are not certain as to what effect
they will have.

They hope that if their product works in one
situation, it will work in every situation. However,
commercial science does have positive points as pure
science has negative points. While pure science is more
certain it is also much more long term. Commercial science
gives immediate care and help, despite how much it may
actually help. Pure science is presented as something that
looks toward and works for the future, while commercial
science deals with what is happening at the moment, but
commercialism hinders pure science so much that, in effect, it
may be bringing about the destruction of its own future.

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