Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Paris. Kansas village in which Gantry grows up. With some nine hundred residents, it is smaller than the real town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in which Lewis grew up, and the fictional Gopher Prairie, which Lewis satirizes in Main Street (1920). Pretentiously named Paris, Gantry’s hometown is even more culturally impoverished than either Sauk Centre or Gopher Prairie, and appears to have not even a pubic library or a social club. A small Baptist church and its Sunday school are the leading institutions of the village. Except for Fourth of July parades and circus bands, the only music Gantry hears is played during church services. Other than occasional political campaign speeches, weekly sermons provide his only exposure to oratory. Sunday school offers examples of painting and sculpture; Bible stories and the words of hymns provide Gantry’s main experience of literature. Lewis concludes his description of Paris by asserting that the church and Sunday School taught Gantry everything he needed, “except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason.” (There is a real town named Paris in north-central Kansas, but Lewis’s Paris probably has no connection with it.)


Winnemac. Fictional midwestern state in which Gantry preaches before being advanced to a large city. Its villages include Schoenheim, Banjo Crossing, and others, all of which Lewis disparages as he does Paris. The narrow cultural climate of midwestern rural villages produces narrow, bigoted people, easily impressed by Gantry and readily...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)


Protestant fundamentalism was in part a reaction in the early twentieth century to the development...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)


Elmer Gantry is a picaresque novel. A typical picaresque narrative chronicles the exploits of a...

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1920s: From 1920 to 1933, the sale of alcohol is prohibited in the United States. The aim is to reduce crime and other social problems...

(The entire section is 257 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Discuss the issue of creationism and evolution. Should creationism be taught in public schools? Is there really a conflict between science...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Elmer Gantry was made into a movie and released by United Artists in 1960, starring Burt Lancaster as Elmer and Jean Simmons as Sharon...

(The entire section is 32 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Lewis’s Arrowsmith (1925) is one of his most admired novels. It portrays the career of Martin Arrowsmith, a dedicated, idealistic...

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)


Ferguson, Charles W., Review of Elmer Gantry, in Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis, edited by Martin...

(The entire section is 291 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Dooley, D. J. “Aspiration and Enslavement.” In The Art of Sinclair Lewis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. Examines Elmer’s picaresque journey through American religion in the early twentieth century. Charges that the novel fails as satire because it is neither realistic nor witty.

Geismar, Maxwell. “Sinclair Lewis: The Cosmic Bourjoyce.” In The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925. New York: Hill and Wang, 1949. Suggests that Lewis has little insight into religious motivation or the commercial exploitation of religion. Criticizes the character of Sharon Falconer as neoprimitive and that of Elmer as archetypal opportunist and false prophet.

Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. “The Great Decade.” In Sinclair Lewis. New York: Twayne, 1962. Explores the novel’s background and describes its having been written in “the most hotly charged religious atmosphere in America since the Salem witch burnings.”

Hilfer, Anthony Channell. “Elmer Gantry and That Old Time Religion.” In The Revolt from the Village, 1915-1930. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. Perceives the novel as an attack on small-town provincialism. Discusses contemporary social changes such as the Scopes Monkey Trial, Prohibition, and the hypocrisy and corruption of some religious extremists.

Schorer, Mark, ed. Sinclair Lewis: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Contains earlier criticism of Elmer Gantry, including Rebecca West’s famous attack on the novel as ineffective satire and Joseph Wood Krutch’s praise of the book, as well as Schorer’s classic study, “Sinclair Lewis and the Method of Half-Truths.”