Study Guide

Arrowsmith Family

By Sinclair Lewis

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"Got any cash outside your school-money?"
"I have not!"
"Thought so! How juh expect to support a wife?" (9.3.36-38)

When Martin decides to marry Leora, his biggest obstacle is Leora's family—especially her brother Bertie. This guy has no time for anyone who doesn't have a steady income and good prospects for the future. Even Martin—a med school student—doesn't make the grade as far as ol' Bertie's concerned.

"I don't believe in interfering with anybody else's doings, or anybody interfering with mine […] but I'll be blamed if I'm going to allow a fellow that I don't know anything about to come snooping around My Sister till I find out something about his prospects!" (9.3.43)

Leora's brother Bertie claims that he likes to stay out of people's business, but getting into people's business seems to be the only thing he does in this book. To be fair, he's just trying to be a good brother and to protect his sister from a bad marriage. But he tends to go over the top when he makes demands on Martin. If we all waited until we had total financial security before getting married, many of us would wait until our mid-forties… or forever.

The conference lasted till nine-thirty, which, as Mr. Tozer pointed out, was everybody's bedtime. (9.3.51)

There's no getting around it: Martin finds his in-laws completely suffocating. They meddle in nearly every aspect of his life, and even tell him when to go to bed. That's not exactly what you want to deal with when you're about to become a doctor.

At the Wheatsylvania station they were met by the whole family, rampant. (9.3.55)

Sick of the Tozer family's rules, Martin and Leora run off and get married without their consent. When the two of them return on a train, the Tozer family is waiting to give them a serious talking to about what they've done. All that matters for the couple, though, is that they're married and no one can take that away from them.

They would in no way, uh, act as though they were married till he [Mr. Tozer] gave permission. (9.3.68)

Even though Martin and Leora are husband and wife, Leora's dad forbids them from having any sexual relationship until Martin has finished medical school and has set up a successful income for himself. Sheeeeesh.

[Mr. Tozer] was cordial now in all his letters, however much he irritated them by the parental advice with which he penalized them for every check he sent. (10.5.8)

Eventually, Martin and Leora are able to negotiate with Leora's family until they (the parents) agree to send Leora a monthly check until Martin gets on his feet. Unfortunately, this check always comes with the bitter pill of parental advice that Martin gets really sick of swallowing.

When Gottlieb sought to make it clear that he was a poor man, the boy answered that out of his poverty he was always sneakingly spending money on his researches—he had no right to do that and shame his son—let the confounded University provide him with material! (12.2.2)

Max Gottlieb lives a very modest life, but not because he has to. He spends nearly every extra cent on funding his scientific research. This spending doesn't go over well with his son, who'd rather spend his father's money on hanging out with rich kids and acting like a big shot. Oh family. Don't you just love it?

"Let's get out of this, Sandy… I wonder were we so wise to live with the family and save money?" (14.1.7)

Although it's really cheap to live with her parents, Leora wonders whether it's the right thing to do. All she really wants out of life is to live alone with Martin. It's not long after expressing her doubts about her family that she and Martin move out for good and finally get some independence.

"Here you've got an illustration of Health in the Home. Look at these great strapping girls, Arrowsmith!" (19.4.5)

Dr. Pickerbaugh is very proud of his family, especially his daughters. He considers them to be as healthy and as morally upright as anyone who ever lived. Little does he know, though, that his daughter Orchid flirts with married men like Martin.

"I guess by this time you've gotten over the funny ideas you used to have about being practical—'commercialism' you used to call it. You can see now that you've got to support your wife and family, and if you don't, nobody else is going to." (20.1.26)

Irving Watters can't help but feel victorious when he sees Martin Arrowsmith settling down into a calm, married life. Back in school, Martin was always saying radical things about how doctors should pursue truth and not care about money. But now that Martin is married, Irving thinks that the responsible thing to do is to make as much money as possible in order to have a family.

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