Elmer Gantry

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New American Library, 1980 - Fiction - 430 pages
2 Reviews
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.  

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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. 

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About the author (1980)

Sinclair Lewis was born in 1885 in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and graduated from Yale University in 1908. His college career was interrupted by various part-time occupations, including a period working at the Helicon Home Colony, Upton Sinclair's socialist experiment in New Jersey. He worked for some years as a free lance editor and journalist, during which time he published several minor novels. But with the publication of Main Street (1920), which sold half a million copies, he achieved wide recognition. This was followed by the two novels considered by many to be his finest, Babbitt (1922) and Arrowsmith (1925), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, but declined by Lewis. In 1930, following Elmer Gantry (1927) and Dodsworth (1929), Sinclair Lewis became the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for distinction in world literature. This was the apogee of his literary career, and in the period from Ann Vickers (1933) to the posthumously published World So Wide (1951) Lewis wrote ten novels that reveal the progressive decline of his creative powers. From Main Street to Stockholm, a collection of his letters, was published in 1952, and The Man from Main Street, a collection of essays, in 1953. During his last years Sinclair Lewis wandered extensively in Europe, and after his death in Rome in 1951 his ashes were returned to his birthplace.

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