Elmer Gantry is the portrait of a silver-tongued evangelist who rises to power within his church, yet lives a life of hypocrisy, sensuality, and ruthless self-indulgence.
The title character starts out as a greedy, shallow, philandering Baptist minister, turns to evangelism, and eventually becomes the leader of a large Methodist congregation. Throughout the novel, Gantry encounters fellow religious hypocrites. Although often exposed as a fraud, Gantry is never fully discredited.
When Elmer Gantry was first published in 1927, it created a public furor. Now it is considered a landmark in American literature and one of the most penetrating studies of hypocrisy in modern literature. The novel also represents the evangelistic activity of America in the 1920s and people’s attitudes toward it.