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Arrowsmith (Lewis) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions 
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Arrowsmith:

1. How does Martin view Winnemac Medical School? What does he find fault with? How do his views differ from those of his classmates?

2. Talk about Madeleine—what kind of young woman is she? Why does Martin turn to her initially, and why does he want to marry her? Why does Martin tell Madeleine that he would work to become a successful surgeon, the very thing he has criticized?

3. Describe Leora—in what ways is she different from Madeleine? Why is Martin attracted to her? And what about the luncheon to which Martin invites both Leora and Madeleine!

4. Martin Arrowsmith, the book's hero: what do you think of him—what kind of character is he? Is he steadfast in his principles or vacillate with the wind? Is he an arrogant know-it-all, or a callow young man who has yet to achieve maturity?

5. Sinclair Lewis can be unmercifully funny—but always to make a point. How, for instance, does he use the character of Roscoe Geake to criticize the medical establishment? (What of Geake's speech, "The Art and Science of Furnishing the Doctor's Office"?) On who or what else does Lewis train his satiric eye (don't overlook the Nautilis Health Fair)?

6. Does Martin deserve his suspension from medical school? Was he rude and arrogant, or standing on principle? After he returns to school, how and why is he changed?

7. Talk about Gottlieb's experience working at Hunziker in Pittsburgh. Why does he take the position; is it an ethical compromise on his part? How does Martin react when he learns of Gottlieb's position? Are the pressures facing Gottlieb prevalent today?

8. Martin's first position out of medical school is a country doctor? What kind of doctor does he make...and why can't he win the trust of the townspeople? Why does Martin become dissatisfied in Wheatsylvania? What is he seeking there that he cannot find? In what way is Sinclair Lewis using Wheatsylvania as a critique of small town America? Do you think his portrait is fair or unfair?

9. Martin eventually becomes acting director of public health in Nautilis, but again controversy and unpopularity seek him out. What's wrong in Nautilis? Is Martin the maker of his own conflict...or is he a true reformer in a corrupt system?

10. After a stop in Chicago, Martin ends up at the McGurk Institute in New York with his old mentor Max Gottlieb. What problematic issues arise in this environment? Again, what is Sinclair Lewis training his critical eye on this time?

11. What are the differences between Tubbs and Gottlieb? What does each represent in the world of science and medicine?

12.. What does Martin learn from Oliver Marchand when the McGurk commission travels to St. Hubert?

13. What role do women play in this novel? How does Lewis portray them? Are they men's equals?

14. Is Martin right to withhold phage from people who are desperately ill? In what way is this issue relevant today?

15. The narrator says in Chapter 36, "the papers were able to announce that America, which was always rescuing the world from something or other, had gone and done it again." Is that a fair assessment of America's position in the world? Is it relevant to today? Does America try to be the world's savior?

SPOILER alert: Go no farther unless you've finished the book.

16. Is Leora's death necessary in this story? Did you feel her loss?

17. Throughout the novel, Martin is a seeker. Still, is his final act justified—that of abandoning his family and retreating into the woods of Vermont to pursue pure research?

18. What has changed, from from the early 20th century to today, in the way medicine and medical research are practiced? What has not changed—what issues addressed in Arrowsmith continue to plague science and medicine 100 years later?

19. Does this novel end on an optimistic...or pessimistic note?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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