Elmer GantryThe majority of all books are trash. Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry is a great book because it has credibility, a timeless theme, and it has the necessary action. Any book that can do that is a great book.
The credibility of Elmer Gantry is something that will keep this book eternally great. Although the actual time period is dated, the plot is not dated. Most people can relate to the different characters in the book. Elmer is a pompous football player who thinks that he is higher than any religion. However, people try, and successfully convert him. He attempts to please two masters at first: his vices and God. He eventually makes the decision to live by God, but of course he will occasionally fool around with his old vices, especially adultery. Most people know someone who is like this and still somehow succeeds although he shouldn’t have. Although Elmer is more extreme than the people the reader is likely to know, he is still a very credible characters.
Another thing that makes this a timeless novel is that it has the needed action to attract the reader who only wants entertainment. Elmer often gets into fights that will keep the reader in the edge of their seat. He will face odds that most would run away from, but also has times when he backs down from a fight, such as when Brother Naylor and Brother Bains confront him about ?fooling around? with Lulu. It also has enough opportunities for the modern person to think about sex although it doesn’t graphically say what happens. This makes all the sex scenes up to the reader which may dismiss them or relish on them. A book with this combination of sex and violence makes it a book that it is even suitable for easy reading for the person who does not want to learn anything.
Finally, Elmer Gantry is a timeless book because it has a universal theme: humans will always sin. It is most obviously seen through Elmer, although it is seen in other characters as well. Elmer has had a history of raising hell and being an agnostic. He converts, but still suffers the same problems. He still drinks, smokes, and has casual sex. He gets accused of messing around with one of the parishioners of his first church, and when he is able to escape that ordeal, he then gets kicked out of seminary for drinking. He takes some time off as a business man, but ends back in the ministry, this time in a traveling evangelism show, sort of the predecessor of televangelists. He gets off of smoking and drinking, but is still an adulterer, which is his major character flaw. He eventually gets married, and takes his preaching seriously. But he still commits adultery with at least two women. And just when the reader thinks that he is going to clean his act, he gets back into the cycle at the end of the novel. Although he is the most prolific sinner in the novel, he has company. Jim, his first true friend, has all the same vices as Elmer. Sharon is an adulteress and Frank is an agnostic. Everyone in this story has vices that they will not, or cannot, give up. That is true with all humans, which is what makes the theme universal.
Everyone should read a book like this because he can learn something from it. However, many right wing conservative Christians want to censor this book because they say it attacks the Christian religion and is in poor taste. They are completely wrong, however. They should embrace this book as a warning on what not to do.