Places: Arrowsmith

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1925

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWinnemac

Winnemac. ArrowsmithImaginary midwestern state–bordered by Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana–in which many of Lewis’s novels are set. Martin spends his boyhood in the small Winnemac town of Elk Mills, where he is introduced to medical science and treatment by Doc Vickerson, whose practice is above his father’s New York Clothing Bazaar. He attends the University of Winnemac at Mohalia on the Chaloosa River, fifteen miles from the state capital Zenith; it is a progressive institution, the first in America to offer extension courses via radio, which Lewis likens to a Ford Motor factory of the intellect. There Martin finds a spiritual home in Max Gottlieb’s bacteriology laboratory, imagining a future life spent amid labyrinths of glass tubing and Bunsen burners. His first visit to Zenith General Hospital brings him into contact with Leora; after his graduation Martin becomes an intern there. An excursion to the Dodsworth Theatre and Martin’s brief meeting with George F. Babbitt, the real estate king, embed the novel firmly within the Lewis canon.


Wheatsylvania. Leora’s North Dakota hometown, located in Crynssen County in the Pony River valley, twenty-four miles from Leopolis. Martin marries Leora there after traveling across the country on a whim to see her; after his internship they return so that he may set up his medical practice, for which he initially rents a one-story shack a half block from Main Street. Martin never fits in there, however, as he is always regarded with suspicion in spite and because of his efforts to improve local standards of hygiene and medical treatment.


Nautilus. Iowa city with a population of 70,000, where Martin goes to work for the Department of Public Health on the rebound from Wheatsylvania. He finds this town more progressive, although the agricultural technology whose manufacture drives its economy is a trifle hidebound, as indicated by the prominence of the Steel Windmill Company and the fact that Nautilus is the headquarters of Cornbelt Co-operative Insurance. Martin thrives there, becoming director of public health when Almus Pickerbaugh becomes the first scientist ever elected to the U.S. Congress; however, he makes enemies when he demolishes a block of tenements as a health hazard.

*New York City

*New York City. Location of the McGurk Institute, where Martin goes to work after spending a year in the Rouncefield Clinic in Chicago. The institute allows him freedom to do the fundamental research he has always craved, alongside his old teacher Max Gottlieb, who came there after an unsatisfying stint with the pharmaceutical company Dawson T. Hunziker & Company of Pittsburgh. Martin and Leora rent a three-room apartment overlooking Gramercy Park and are gradually absorbed into the society of the institute via McGurk Scientific Dinners. After the institute takes up military research in World War I, Martin becomes increasingly disaffected in the face of pressure to direct his work to more immediately practical ends. Although his experiments with bacteriophages get positive results, he is not the same man when he returns to New York–without Leora–after testing the efficacy of his methods in the field. Although his second marriage to Joyce Lanyon anchors him in New York for a while, his new work on pneumococcus is subject to so many tribulations that his departure becomes as inevitable as his abandonment of Wheatsylvania and Nautilus.

St. Hubert

St. Hubert. Fictional island south of Barbados in the West Indies, with a population of about 100,000; an outpost of the British Empire. When the Pendown Castle imports plague to Point Carib and the capital, Blackwater, the colonial governor and the feud-riven house of assembly are slow to react, thus turning the crisis into a disaster and providing a perfect natural laboratory for Martin to test the efficacy of his bacteriophages.

Birdies’ Rest

Birdies’ Rest. Mean residence beside a Vermont lake where Martin and Terry Wickett eke out the latter stages of their careers.

BibliographyBucco, Martin, ed. Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. Begins with early interviews and goes on to contemporary critics. Articles include discussion of Arrowsmith; one article shows how the book developed from Lewis’ unfinished novel about labor.Dooley, D. J. The Art of Sinclair Lewis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. Chapter 4 discusses the genesis, development, strengths, weaknesses, and reputation of Arrow-smith. Investigates the novel’s central theme and characters.Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. Boston: Twayne, 1962. Excellent chapter on the heroic Arrowsmith in the context of American society. Sees the novel as more artistic and inspired than its predecessors.Griffin, Robert J., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Arrowsmith.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Only book-length study of Arrowsmith. Includes early reviews and important essays by leading Lewis scholars.Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. Indispensable. Includes an examination of Arrowsmith from its beginnings to its critical reception. Also includes discussion of the men and women who were the prototypes for the character in Arrowsmith.
Categories: Places