Elmer Gantry isn’t suited to be a lawyer, so he becomes a preacher instead. Although he experiences a variety of failures, and even more successes, Gantry ultimately finds this new career path suits him very well indeed—despite his drinking and womanizing. Throughout his time as a preacher Gantry progresses through the hierarchies of the Baptist and Methodist churches, dabbles in revivalism and “New Thought,” and even experiments with politics, all the while emerging from scandals relatively unscathed and ready to move onward and upward once again.
Sinclair Lewis published the satirical Elmer Gantry in 1927 much to the dismay of the religious community. It was denounced from the pulpit, banned by many, and even engendered threats of violence. Despite this—or perhaps because of it—it went on to become a massive success and the best selling novel of that year.
One of the most savage satirical assaults against institutionalized religion and its hypocrisy in American literature, Elmer Gantry continues to be a window into a particularly important aspect of American history.