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Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis
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Elmer Gantry (1927)

by Sinclair Lewis

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In Elmer Gantry, Elmer himself is less a character than a contrivance, an easy target who in our age might be a TV personality to serve his ambition to have an ever bigger Christian pulpit leading to what becomes, late in the book, his ultimate goal: to be “emperor of America—maybe of the world.” Heeeeere’s Elmer! Salesman for God (and for Elmer).

The novel is easy to read, often entertaining, and I like Lewis’s way with words. Even so, I didn’t buy into it much, not because people resembling Elmer can’t exist—we certainly have seen that they do—but because the program Lewis follows comes to seem predictable or annoying.

Among other goals, Lewis makes sure you’re repeatedly shown that all the normal human flaws violating biblical injunctions can be found in Christians and their preachers/presbyters/priests/pastors/whatever. I think virtually everyone receptive to this message already knows it. His preaching is to the choirs.

Elmer’s superficiality (little doubt what he’ll do, no matter what he says) blunts the attack on evangelism even as it makes Lewis’s condemnation plainer. It’d be better to have given Elmer’s personality more notes, something richer than clownish interest. Or maybe Lewis would have interested me more had he written a satire of a writer who satirizes evangelism. The fictive writer who satirizes becomes a kind of preacher himself, thus mimicking the subject of his satire and showing how easy it is to be converted into such a man. But that would divert us from the condemnations Lewis has undertaken.

Lewis’s central reason for writing this book is voiced by another preacher, a disaffected one, in a long monologue Lewis has composed that is the whole enchilada. Here Lewis makes clear it’s not the style of preaching that Elmer embodies or even his character that are the heart of the matter. It is the Bible and Jesus and Christianity and religion in general. Now that’s fundamentalist criticism.

In his harangue the preacher asserts, among other arguments, “You know it’s almost impossible to get people to read the Bible honestly. They’ve been so brought up to take the church interpretation of every word that they read into it whatever they’ve been taught to find there.” Elmer Gantry represents a challenge to believers to take that statement seriously by going beyond one’s upbringing and embracing Lewis’s version of honest encounters with scripture. It’s not hard to figure out how Lewis expects that challenge to be received. ( )
  dypaloh | Mar 23, 2018 |
"I'll be the one big preacher in Zenith. And then- Chicago? New York? Bishopric? Whatever I want! Whee!"
By sally tarbox on 4 Jun. 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Elmer Gantry is an intensely unspiritual young man at college in the 1920s. Not particularly academic, he is a strapping 'football gladiator' who goes in for fighting, drinking and girls. His only friend is a passionate atheist.
How Gantry comes to get sucked into theology school, and his failures and successes thereafter make for a highly readable work, that make one look at organised religion in a dubious manner. Elmer's attitude to the whole thing is well illustrated when he gets his first appointment:
'He'd show 'em!...Show 'em how he could build up church membership, build up the collections, get 'em all going with his eloquence - and of course, carry the message of salvation into darkened hearts. It would be mighty handy to have the extra ten a week - and maybe more if he could kid the Schoenheim deacons properly. His first church...his own...and Frank had to take his orders!' ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
I had expected that I would know the basics from having seen the movie but the book was completely different! Excellent satire about evangelical Christians, small town America & hypocrisy and the Anthony Heald narration was very good.

Elmer Gantry is a hypocrite but he doesn't even seem to realize it (or only dimly)! So many aspects of Elmer reminded me of Donald Trump that at times it was hard to continue (and made me hate the ending when despite having his hypocrisy revealed to the public, Elmer manages (with help) to bribe & threaten the witnesses and spin the press so that he ends up being the winner. -- great for satire but awful for the real world). ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 8, 2016 |
I had watched the movie version of Elmer Gantry a number of times and thought it would be good to read the novel and see how they matched up. Burt Lancaster, cast as Gantry was superb. I was rather surprised to see how drastically edited the movie was, but I guess I shouldn't have been because that is usually the norm. The movie only covers to the demise of Sister Sharon. It also does not as I recall say much about Gantry even being a preacher. In any event I found the novel dragging on with really not that much to say other than portray the hypocritical side of the religion business. But Lewis was certainly on to something and foretold some of the great real life dramas that came to be such as the Jim and Tammy saga or even more closely to the Jimmy Swaggert era and of course the many we never get to hear about. ( )
  knightlight777 | Apr 13, 2015 |
The novel (amazingly, it was published in 1927) tells the journey of Elmer Gantry, a narcissistic, insincere, bigoted, unethical, womanizing, hypocritical student who abandons his ambition to become a lawyer to become a “preacher of the faith.” His journey leads Elmer from ordained Baptist minister, a "New Thought" evangelist, traveling salesman and eventually Methodist minister of a large prestigious church. Along the way Elmer contributes to the downfall, physical injury, mental harm and even death of key people around him, including a genuine minister, Frank Shallard. If you are expecting redemption here—you will not find it! This is a satire, funny, biting, infuriating and downright frightening (Elmer comes up with a plan to control/legislate the morals/values of the US—now where have I seen that before??). Not only do we see the hypocrisy and falseness of Elmer—but it is evident in those around him (even "Scotty" the golf pro is not an actual Scot, but a fraud who learned his false accent from a Irishman!) I was so surprised how relevant this novel was—despite the fact that it was written in the 20s. The characters are vivid, the issues presented complex and still true today (I wondered at the end if this book had been read by the Christian Coalition--to get ideas for their campaign!). A 5 out of 5 stars—a must read! ( )
  marsap | Aug 12, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lewis, Sinclairprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heald, AnthonyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schorer, MarkAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Elmer Gantry was drunk.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451522516, Mass Market Paperback)

The portrait of an evangelist who rises to power within his church.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

One man's fervent pursuit of wealth and power leads him to religion for profit in the evangelistic tents of the 1920's Midwestern Corn Belt.

» see all 3 descriptions

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