• Religious jouissance, bigotry and identificatory mis-recognition in Elmer Gantry's conversion experience

    Ana Maria Marques Da Costa Pereira Lopes (see profile)
    TC Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Literature, TC Religion and Literature
    Comparative religion
    Item Type:
    american literature
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    Abstract: Assuming that the American self (and culture) was founded upon Puritan values, the aim of this paper is to discuss the importance of identificatory processes in helping to enforce conformity towards prevailing religious mores, as stated above, of a puritanical nature. Underlying our decision to focus the discussion on the novel Elmer Gantry is our belief that, as a novelist of manners, the author of Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis, was particularly talented in the art of deconstructing many of the mechanisms used by the ruling class, the American middle class, to enforce conformity of the individual towards the dominant ideological, religious and social order. Contrary to the myth of the province as locus amoenus, an extension/enlargement of the myth of the farmer as the most honest and hardworking of men (whose forefathers were puritans, believed to be no less pious than their descendants were to become), popularized by authors such as Zona Gale, Booth Tarkington or Meredith Nicholson, Sinclair Lewis showed that the province had received the legacy of three centuries of ideological indoctrination and intellectual, moral and spiritual dilettantism. Having broken, after the publication of Main Street in 1920, with the prevailing literary tradition, Lewis demonstrates, in all the novels pertaining to the 20s (including obviously Elmer Gantry) that white middle class Americans (of Anglo-Saxon ancestry), assume the role of “subjects” maintaining with “the other”, be he an Indian, an immigrant, or even nature, a castrating relationship that eventually results in the puerile, neurotic or megalomaniac alienation of the subject himself/herself. Thus, the trajectory of Lewis’s hero Elmer Gantry can be analysed through an application of key psychoanalytic concepts, such as Melanie Klein’s theory of “good” and bad breasts” or the Oedipus complex or paternal metaphor, elaborated by Freud and recovered by Lacan, under the designation of the Name-of–the–Father. Accepting the Name-of-the-Father implies a perception of a denial, a lack, a prohibition, once the French word nom (name), when pronounced orally, is indistinguishable from non (no). Elmer, therefore, will commit a double murder, symbolically killing both his earthly and his Heavenly Father, so as to become equal to (or even replace) him/Him. Key words: “good and bad objects/breasts”; subject; other; introjection; Oedipus complex; The –Name-of-the-Father
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