Study Guide

Arrowsmith Drugs and Alcohol

By Sinclair Lewis

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Drugs and Alcohol

"Sure. You bet," Martin agreed with alcoholic fondness. (3.3.3)

Martin finds himself really agreeable whenever he's drunk around his buddy Clif. Some folks like to argue when they're drunk. But with Clif, Martin likes to agree, even when Clif says stuff Martin doesn't agree with.

When he had left Gottlieb at his stupid brown little house, his face as reticent as though the midnight supper and all the rambling talk had never happened, Martin ran home altogether drunk. (4.4.13)

Martin has a lot of respect and admiration for Max Gottlieb. But sometimes he is reminded of how pathetic Gottlieb's life could look from the outside. Gottlieb has the intelligence to do whatever he wants in life. But he chooses to live in a tiny brown house and to spend all his time in a lab. Some would say that Gottlieb's a bit of a loser, and Martin feels the need to get drunk whenever he feels this thought coming on.

After vacation, in late January, he found that whisky relieved him from the frenzy of work, from the terror of loneliness—then betrayed him and left him the more weary, the more lonely. (8.3.7)

Martin often finds medical school really lonely. After all, the guy has no living family and his girlfriend isn't around. Plus he doesn't always see eye-to-eye with his classmates, so he tends to get drunk to fight off his feelings of loneliness. The sad thing is that all this ever does is make him feel lonelier.

Suppose he's drunk and gets called out on a case! (17.1.35)

Martin's alcoholism is no secret to the people of Wheatsylvania. For these people, a doctor should be sober 24/7 in case someone calls his house for an emergency. What would happen if Martin ever got called to an emergency case while he was drunk? It would be a disaster.

"Come! I buy a drink. As a hygienist, I war on alcohol. In excessive quantities it is almost as bad as coffee or even ice cream soda. But as one who is fond of talking, I find a nice long whisky and soda a great solvent of human idiocy." (17.5.13)

As a public health official, Gustaf Sondelius could go on all day about the evils of alcohol. But on the other hand, he likes to sit around and have a good chat, and he finds that alcohol helps him do this a lot better.

[And] they could all of them, except the five-year-old twins, quote practically without error the newest statistics showing the evils of alcohol. (19.4.9)

The Pickerbaugh family is the very picture of health, and all of them can quote nearly any medical statistic to show why drinking booze is bad for you. But at the same time, they are basically a family of robots, with no real sense of danger or adventure. For Martin, some rules were made to be broken. But for the Pickerbaughs, the only path to happiness is being morally superior to everyone around you.

But, except that once he caught the father of the Eugenic Family relieving the strain of being publicly healthy by taking a long, gurgling, ecstatic drink from a flask, Pickerbaugh found nothing wrong in their conduct, till Saturday. (21.3.15)

For a public health fair, Dr. Pickerbaugh hires a group of people called "The Eugenic Family" to help demonstrate how to live healthy lives. Little does he know, though, that these people are total frauds. They're actually a local gang and they love to drink.

Beside his cot there was always a bottle. (35.5.13)

After he loses his wife Leora, Martin Arrowsmith sinks into a crushing depression. His only ally in this difficult time is liquor, and he always makes sure to have a bottle next to his bed. The only way he can sleep, it seems, is if he numbs his brain with booze.

But by night Martin sat alone, tousled, drinking steadily, living on whisky and hate, freeing his soul and dissolving his body by hatred as once hermits dissolved theirs by ecstasy. (35.5.22)

During the days, Martin can still keep himself together and do his duty as a doctor. But each night, he totally lets himself go and never receives any company. With his wife gone, he feels like he has no real reason left to live. The slow fall into death is all he's waiting for, and alcohol helps him along this path.

He did not see Joyce. He lived at the almshouse, but most evenings now he was sober. (35.5.34)

Suddenly, after a long stint of drinking after Leora's death, Martin sobers up and refocuses on his work as a doctor. It's not completely clear why this happens. Martin just seems to get up one day and realize that he's been mourning and feeling sorry for himself for long enough.

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