Today universally recognized as a landmark in American literature, Elmer Gantry scandalized readers when it was first published, causing Sinclair Lewis to be "invited" to a jail cell in New Hampshire and to his own lynching in Virginia. His portrait of a golden-tongued evangelist who rises to power within his church-a saver of souls who lives a life of hypocrisy, sensuality, and ruthless self-indulgence-is also the record of a period, a reign of grotesque vulgarity, which but for Lewis would have left no record of itself. Elmer Gantry has been called the greatest, most vital, and most penetrating study of hypocrisy that has been written since Voltaire.
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This novel was Lewis’ first satire of protestant fundamentalism. Elmer Gantry is a self-absorbed college student who was originally supposed to go to law school, but his unethical attitude did not suit the law school world. He instead becomes a minister. Lewis believed the hypocritical world of religion needed to be brought forward, and he did so in a harsh way. Appropriate for high school students during units focusing on societal pressures and values in the mid 1900's.
I am sure that when Lewis wrote this novel in the 1920s he could never have dreamed religious fundamentalism would have such a grip on some parts of our world in the 21st century. This is a good story that is also a very cautionary tale about how charismatic religious figures can so easily abuse their position. No doubt some people may interpret this book as an assault on religion. I would suggest that is unfair. Rather this is a useful novel to remind us how easily charismatic individuals can manipulate others for their own selfish purposes. A valuable novel for teachers and pupils to read.