Critical Essay on Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

Paper Type:  Book review
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1239 Words
Date:  2022-08-10


The book, Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis is a vicious satire against protestant fundamentalist religion in the Midwest of America. It narrates the story of a corrupt hypocritical but successful preacher called Elmer Gantry who occasionally involves in a romantic relationship with women. He is also a drunkard despite being an eloquent preacher. Overall, the book talks about hypocrisy and corruption in the church. It concludes that most of the clergymen in the church are hypocrites and they do not believe in the doctrines they preach to the audience. The earthly pleasures attract some of them to the extent that they indulge in sin irrespective of their responsibilities in the church. Other than hypocrisy, Lewis uses his opportunity to ridicule the ignorance of believers, the dishonesty of the priests, and the farcicality of the opposing Christian faith.

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Sinclair provides an in-depth look at the way church ministers behave in their ministry. His book is written for the religious people who often think that the church ministers are too holy to commit serious sins that the Bible rebukes. Grounded by the current study in Theology and coupled with various aspects from psychology, the book is recommended for mature Christian adults who have a better grasp of the Bible and understand the church doctrines to the extent that the sinful nature of humans cannot change their faith. The entire novel, therefore, reveals the evil practices of preachers in the church despite calling themselves reverends.

The book starts out by giving a picture of the protagonist. It describes Elmer Gantry as a college athlete who is obsessed with drinking and womanizing. Though intelligent, he becomes a bully student in school despite attending a religious university. Lewis's portrayal of Elmer and his involvement in the world of evangelism is the book's strongest aspect. This facet comes about in the form of insincerity and rationalization exhibited by Elmer. Elmer's personality grows strong as he gains power and influence.

However, he is not a sociopath implying that he has pangs of guilt surrounding him. Perhaps, he dislikes thinking that he is wrong although he is not involved in any activity that is entirely not self-interested. One gets to read his mind as he lies, bullies, cons, and seduces although his life. He commits every sin but still preaches powerful sermons while considering himself as a moral man of God. He leaves behind a trail of ruined lives, yet he believes that his actions are justified. To the reader, Elmer is a hypocrite who serves two masters at the same time.


The central theme in this book is closely related to Riddington'sTreatment of hypocrisy. He defines hypocrisy as the presence of being right by virtue contrary to the real character of a person. Some people consider hypocrisy as the eighth cardinal of sin. Riddingtonargues that it is better to be consistently evil rather than being inconsistently holy by serving both God and the vices. Christians believe that inconsistency is a symbol of a weak faith of an individual who is unable to control his behaviors decisively. This practice has been a problem in the church since the days of the apostles.

Throughout history, this kind of behavior has been observed in the church. As a result, many people do not feel comfortable attending the church services as they claim that hypocritical priests cannot lead them to worship. Although hypocrisy is an evil act that Christians struggle with, the believers should learn the difference between hypocrisy and faithfulness as well as the difference between a person who commits sin but fights to cover it up and the one who is struggling against sin. From an individual perspective, the story of Elmer Gantry in Lewis's novel clearly shows that Gantry is one preacher who is fighting against sin particularly adultery, and at the same time, he sins and tries to cover his wrongdoings due to his position in the church. Therefore, his case is described as pure hypocrisy.

By reading the book, it can be noted that those who reach a high level of insanity are the leaders. It seems that the Gantry created the limit of human ambition. After being nicknamed ''Hell Cat'' in his youth, Gantry changes his ways upon his adulthood life. He attempts multiple carriers before he is called to serve as a Baptist Minister. Reverend Gantry strives to be the vast empire of the church although he faces numerous ethical failings. His quest towards becoming a reverend despite his sinful acts makes the most elegant theme of hypocrisy.

Lewis uses credible styles of writing in this novel. The outstanding style that attracts the attention of the reader is the way he uses satire in the book. An example of an exciting Satire is where Elmer consults an atheist, Dr. Lefferts regarding religious matters. Of course, the whole story has a fascinating satire particularly in the spiritual life of Gantry as he tries to be holy on the one hand and sinful on the other side. Throughout the novel, Lewis applies this technique to demonstrate the insincerity of the protagonist.

Although the book uses satire appropriately to reveal the aspect of religious hypocrisy, Gantry gives an understanding of the 1920s clash of cultural forces in America. During this time, religious believers were extremely troubled by the influence of science and secularism as they violated the Christian faith. The traditional Christian believers also criticized those who understand the Bible following the modern methods of scholarships.

Meanwhile, this book is not recommended for someone who is still maturing spiritually. As much as the book depicts the hypocrisy and corruption practiced in the church when read by 'immature' Christians, it can quickly change their faith. Most believers view the members of the clergy as their role models in spiritual matters. When they are convinced with the information that portrays the church leaders negatively, they can lose interest in the church services and start questioning the existence of God irrespective of the fact that all preachers are not evil.


In conclusion, Elmer Gantry portrays the theme of hypocrisy as practiced by most Christians particularly preachers, members of the clergy and other leaders of the church. Both Lewis and Riddington agree that hypocrisy is real and it started a long time in the history of the church. Not all believers in this book are evil. They are just ordinary people. Lewis, however, spits the temple merchants and hypocrites by using Elmer Gantry as the most outrageous example. Therefore, it cannot be denied that the novel is an accurate reflection of the behaviors of both traditional and modern church leaders.

One may choose to read this book because it is an accurate reflection of leadership in the church today. Some people believe that members of the clergy should act as role models to the congregation. Engaging in irresponsible sexual practices and practicing corruption could make believers lose ties with the church. In turn, it raises a lot of questions in the church as some people will start doubting the existence of God. In short, the sin committed by church leaders portrays a bad picture in the context of religion. Therefore, the moral lesson that can be extracted from the novel is that the priesthood needs to be a calling from God instead of taking the position as a profession.


Lewis, Sinclair. Elmer Gantry. New York: Penguin Group, 1927.

Riddington, Thomas. "Religion and hypocrisy." Student BMJ 19 19, no. 1 (2011).

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