Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Arrowsmith - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1926

By: Sinclair Lewis
Harcourt Brace and Company, 1925

Arrowsmith follows the life of Dr. Martin Arrowsmith as he moves from reading Gray's Anatomy in a doctor's office in a small Midwest town to an unhappy doctor and, finally, to one of the world's leading scientist. Arrowsmith move up the ranks as a scientist with the unwavering support of his wife, Leora. He spends most of his life skeptical of most doctors of the time who practiced medicine superficially - convincing people of ailment so that they would have to pay for treatment - and caring very little for finding out exactly why illnesses and diseases occurred.

When I finished this book, I breathed a contented sigh of relief and for a moment felt very happy that Martin Arrowsmith was finally able to find the life he had so desired all of his life. He spent his entire life searching for the thing that would make him happiest and actually found it. But then, after I really thought about it, I realized that he had accomplished this at great cost. He was an incredibly selfish man. Along the way his searching cost the death of his faithful and loyal first wife, whom he often neglected, and the abandonment of his second wife and his only child. He hurt many people along the way. So, my question is, is it truly worth it? Our natural inclination as humans is to search for what will make us happy. Lewis leaves us with the assumption that Arrowsmith died happy, no matter how he hurt others along the way. Is that reality? Is it possible to search for our own happiness and find it if we end up virtually alone?

Lewis's book, like his others, carries heavy overtones of sarcasm - often resulting in comedic scenarios. He was highly critical of American society and capitalism at the turn of the century. The book was a bit long, though, for all of the criticisms it containing. I got his point long before reaching the 440th page. Interestingly, Lewis declined the Pulitzer because he felt that these kinds of prizes caused authors to write for the prize committee and not for excellence. He also felt that "the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."

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