In the novel "Arrowsmith", by Sinclair Lewis, written in 1925, one can read of our world's lack of idealism in science, most often found in the medical profession (Encarta, 1). This book portrays the times in terms of scientific advancement not being idealistic, mostly in the medical field. Our scientists could not come up with their own ideas and our progress was going nowhere, fast. Although, today we are advancing so rapidly that we have no choice but to move and experiment, there is no time to slow down and copy old works. Sinclair Lewis also combines his life and the life of a graduating microbiologists, who he interviewed to help him write this book, into his main character, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith. All of this goes into the book "Arrowsmith".
Sinclair lewis was born on the seventh of February, 1885, in the town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, to his warmhearted parents, Emma Kermont Lewis and Dr. Edwin J. Lewis. At a very young age Sinclair read widely in grade school and continued on in his studies for many years (Grebstein, 16). Lewis studied at Yale University form 1903 till 1906. There he studied literary writings and works to help him become a writer. His father had disagreed with his career choice, but he went on and did what he wanted to do most, write. At one time he was so disgusted with his father that he ran away and tried to join the Spanish-American War as a drummer boy (Cobletz, 248). He did not get far; his father caught him before he left town. Back to collage he went and even through collage Lewis still read many books. One professor was quoted as saying "He was drawing more books from the Yale library than, I believe, any undergraduates before or since." Lewis was known to read such books from authors Hardy, Meredith, James, Howells, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol, Flaubert, Zola, Huneker, Pinero, Jones, Shaw, d'Annunzio, Sudermann, Yeats, George Moore, Nietzsche, Haeckel, Huxley, Moody, Marx, Gorky, Blake, Pater, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Rossetti, Swinburne, Clough, and Ibsen. All of these authors were influential to him, but none more than the famous H. G. Wells (Grebstein 24).
He accomplished all this during college while keeping two or more jobs at one time and writing for several papers along with his own books that he wrote. In October of 1906 he left school for a few months and stayed with his brother in his utopian colony in New Jersey. A few months later he remembered the work ethics his father taught him and went back to school and got his degree in 1907. After that he traveled around the world looking for jobs. He worked at such places as the Panama Canal, New York Post newspaper, he worked as a editor for many other papers, he sold some of his story ideas to Jack London, and of course he still wrote free lance (Light, 196). Finally he published his first work in 1912," Hike and the Aeroplane", under his pseudonym Tom Graham. Many books followed.
He published a total of twenty two works written along with a few playwrights and movie scripts. He was also married, and divorced to Grace Livingstone Hegger with whom he had a son Wells Lewis, and he also married Dorothy Thompson, whom he also divorced, and had another son, Michael Lewis. During his career he had done many of things but none more unpredictable than when he declined the Pulitzer Prize for his book entitled "Arrowsmith". It seemed that he still had grievances with the committee for declined the award to his previous book, Main Street. This decline of such a prestigious award was talked about for months (Light, 171). Not everyone understood exactly why he declined this award, but he made it up in 1930 when he was named the first American to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. He was also elected into a very prestigious institute in 1935, The National Institute of Arts and Literature. Then one year later he was awarded an honorary degree by Yale University. Then just three more years later he was inducted into the Academy of Arts and Literature
(Goblentz, 36). Lewis was also a teacher for a few years; he taught some writing classes for the University of Wisconsin and Yale. He was also asked to participate in many lectures, which at first he was reluctant to do, but he began to like them. Though, through all this Sinclair Lewis lived till 1951 at an age of 65. He died almost a month before his 66 birthday, in Rome, Italy. He was cremated and his ashes were buried in his home town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Light, 154). That same year, only a few months after his death his final book, "World So Wide", was published posthumously (Grebstein, 37).
Sinclair Lewis's life could be summed up into three parts. First, his early years. These were the years that were most influential to him, he read constantly with much variety. This is also where he started his career off. He was an apprentice to many publishers and papers. His first works were written in this time also. Second, was the prime of his life and quite possibly the prime of his career. All his time was spent into creating his five best novels, Main Street (1920), Babbit (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), and Dodsworth (1929), plus two lesser novels, Mantrap (1926), and The Man Who Knew Coolidge (1928) (Grebstein, 69). In these novels he portrayed unheard of ideas and thoughts. The public fought him, but he was too famous; every one of his books had made to best seller status. In this time he had also been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, declined the award, and moved on to be the first American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (Grebstein, 86). Also in this time he was married twice and had two wonderful kids. This was truly a great time for Lewis. Finally the last part of his life, the decline. This must happen in everyone's life some time or another. There is not a lot to say, after 1940 things just started to go down the tubes. He divorced his second wife, he had troubles writing, and his health was slowly leaving him. Sinclair Lewis's writings were new to his times, it helped to bring about change and realization in his time (Light, 30). In the early nineteen hundreds our country was changing very rapidly with technological advances and industry mass producing our needs. Sinclair Lewis kept up with the changing times, as seen in his writings, while most people were still adjusting and being left behind.
In Lewis's life there was no one event that helped to shape his writing and his life, instead, it was society as a whole changing and keeping up with itself that influenced him. For his times his writing was new and considered not acceptable by some people still being left behind in the wave of our advanced society. As a young boy he read a vast variety of new authors who influenced him into becoming a writer. It was this new style of writing, that conformed to the times, that helped him become such a famous writer.
Sinclair Lewis, a famous writer? That is what most people tend to think even though there are some that say he is a dry and boring writer. I tend to think of him as a great writer after having read two of his books, "Arrowsmith", and "Main Street". In "Arrowsmith", Lewis focuses on two major devices, or themes. One was the theme seen throughout all of his books, the lack of values in middle-class America, specifically spiritual and intellectual values combined with monotony and emotional frustration. This is just saying that we as a people have regressed and become lesser of a what we were before. Lewis seemed to think our society was changing for the worst. Second was his views on our lack of scientific idealism in the medical profession. This is saying that our advance in science, especially the medical field, has been slow and uneventful. He seems to think that we had been a step behind from everyone else and copying others' ideas to help advance more quickly. We could not come up with ideas of our own.
The book is based upon the life and advances of a medical scientist, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith. Lewis explains how, during the course of his life, Dr. Arrowsmith portrays these two major themes. Dr. Arrowsmith would work his hardest and still always find himself trailing behind others. In the process of trying to catch up to everyone else, he also finds his middle-class American profile turn back towards the right direction of progression and back to the good old-fashioned values of life which many people had forgotten. Lewis ended the book with Dr. Martin Arrowsmith saying "We'll plug along doing our best and if not, we fail" (Lewis, 464).
Hopefully we all will succeed. In the early nineteen hundreds many people had lost their traditional values and fallen behind in society because we were moving so fast and it was much easier than trying to keep up with everything. Today it is the same way, society is changing so rapidly now that if you stop for one minute everyone else passes you by and you have to work to catch back up. The book "Arrowsmith" is saying that when society changes we can't break down and fall apart; we must stay together and move on, gaining speed as we move along and if we stumble we have to get right back up and keep moving.
This book is very much a part of the times in which it was written and it also relates to today's society. Always moving, always advancing, trying to keep up. All of this makes Lewis' writings unique, the novel itself was interesting and fun to read. It teaches you about the nineteen twenties and of Sinclair Lewis himself. It is not very often that a book of this magnitude comes out and becomes published.
The book, "Arrowsmith", was a Pulitzer Prize winner that was declined out of dislike. Sinclair Lewis is a great writer who knew the times and portrayed them well. He lived a full and rich life, his works were all best sellers, and he helped shape and mold society.
Coblentz, Stantona. "(Harry) Sinclair Lewis." All works reprinted in 20th Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 12, Ed. Mencken, H. L. Chicago: Gale Research, 1987. 254-257.
Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1962
"Lewis, (Harry) Sinclair." Microsoft Encarta. 1993 ed. Lewis, Sinclair. Arrowsmith. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1952.
Light, Martin, ed. CDALB-Sinclair Lewis. 1917-1929. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., Michigan, 1989. 5 vol.