Sinclair Lewis

American writer and playwright (1885–1951)

Sinclair Lewis (7 February 188510 January 1951) was an American writer, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1930. He was the second husband of Dorothy Thompson.

I have faith in Faith, I have reverence for all true Reverence.


Every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile.
  • Every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile. In protest, I declined election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters some years ago, and now I must decline the Pulitzer Prize.
    • Letter declining the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith
  • Fortune has dealt with me rather too well. I have known little struggle, not much poverty, many generosities. Now and then I have, for my books or myself, been somewhat warmly denounced — there was one good pastor in California who upon reading my Elmer Gantry desired to lead a mob and lynch me, while another holy man in the state of Maine wondered if there was no respectable and righteous way of putting me in jail. And, much harder to endure than any raging condemnation, a certain number of old acquaintances among journalists, what in the galloping American slang we call the "I Knew Him When Club", have scribbled that since they know me personally, therefore I must be a rather low sort of fellow and certainly no writer. But if I have now and then received such cheering brickbats, still I, who have heaved a good many bricks myself, would be fatuous not to expect a fair number in return.
    • Nobel Lecture (12 December 1930)
  • The trouble with this country is... that there're too many people going about saying "The trouble with this country is—"
  • Slow yellow river flowing, willows that gesture in tepid August airs, and four children playing at greatness, as, doubtless, great men themselves must play.
    • Ann Vickers (1933) First lines.
  • Probably none of the Weagles gave five minutes' thought a year to theology or ecclesiology, except Ora, who occasionally stirred up a lot of interesting family irritation by announcing that he was going to become a Catholic, an Episcopalian, a Buddhist, or a Seventh Day Adventist.
    • Work of Art (1934) Ch. 4
  • Myron reflected that there are so many people in the world who are eager to do for you things that you do not wish done, provided only that you will do for them things that you don't wish to do.
    • Work of Art (1934) Ch. 21
  • I understand you all want to be writers. Well, what are you doing here? Why the devil aren't you home writing?
  • Mr. Blingham, and may he fry in his own cooking-oil, was assistant treasurer of the Flaver-Saver Company.
    • Kingsblood Royal (1947) First lines.

The Job (1917)

  • His entire system of theology was comprised in the Bible, which he never read, and the Methodist Church, which he rarely attended.
  • Fine, large, meaningless, general terms like romance and business can always be related. They take the place of thinking, and are highly useful to optimists and lecturers.
  • The reason for it all, nobody who is actually engaged in it can tell you, except the bosses, who believe that these sacred rites of composing dull letters and solemnly filing them away are observed in order that they may buy the large automobiles in which they do not have time to take the air.
  • Mr. Wilkins came back and hemmed and hawed a good deal; he praised the work she hadn't considered well done, and pointed out faults in what she considered particularly clever achievements.
  • It has been calculated that ninety-three million women in all parts of the world have ruined their complexions, and therefore, their souls, by Pemberton's creams and lotions for saving the same; and that nearly three-tenths of the alcohol consumed in prohibition counties is obtained in Pemberton's tonics and blood-builders and women's specifics, the last being regarded by large farmers with beards as especially tasty and stimulating.
  • This age, which should adjudge happiness to be as valuable as soap or munitions, would never come so long as the workers accepted the testimony of paid spokesmen... to the effect that they were contented and happy, rather than the evidence of their own wincing nerves to the effect that they live in a polite version of hell.

Main Street (1920)

  • She was not a Respectable Married Woman but fully a human being.
  • There had to be one man in town independent enough to sass the banker!
  • I went to a denominational college and learned that since dictating the Bible, and hiring a perfect race of ministers to explain it, God has never done much but creep around and try to catch us disobeying it.
  • The outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice that it was not concealed at all.
  • I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We're tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We're tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We're tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We're tired of hearing politicians and priests and cautious reformers... coax us, 'Be calm! Be patient! Just give us a bit more time and we’ll produce it; trust us; we’re wiser than you!' For ten thousand years they've said that. We want our Utopia now— and we're going to try our hands at it.
  • "I wonder if you can understand the 'fun' of making a beautiful thing, the pride and satisfaction of it, and the holiness!" The company glanced doubtfully at one another. In Gopher Prairie it is not good form to be holy except at church, between ten-thirty and twelve on Sunday.
  • Carol was discovering that the one thing that can be more disconcerting than intelligent hatred is demanding love. "She supposed that she was being gracefully dull and standardized in the Smails' presence, but they scented the heretic, and with forward-stooping delight they sat and tried to drag out her ludicrous concepts for their amusement. They were like the Sunday-afternoon mob starting at monkeys in the Zoo, poking fingers and making faces and giggling at the resentment of the more dignified race... They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden;... that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight;... that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ... 'Where does she get all them the'ries?' marveled Uncle Whittier Smail.
  • The greatest mystery about a human being is not his reaction to sex or praise, but the manner in which he contrives to put in twenty-four hours a day. It is this which puzzles the longshoreman about the clerk, the Londoner about the bushman.
  • It has not yet been recorded that any human being has gained a very large or permanent contentment from meditation upon the fact that he is better off than others.
  • With... small-town life... there are hundreds of thousands... who are not content. The more intelligent young people... flee to the cities... and... stay there, seldom returning even for holidays. The reason, Carol insisted... is an unimaginatively standardized background, a sluggishness of speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit by the desire to appear respectable. It is contentment... the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful of the living for their restless walking. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is the slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness made God. A savorless people, gulping tasteless food and sitting afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking-chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world.
  • Except for half a dozen in each town the citizens are proud of that achievement of ignorance which is so easy to come by. To be 'intellectual' or 'artistic' or, in their own word, to be 'highbrow,' is to be priggish and of dubious virtue.
  • A village in a country which is taking pains to become altogether standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed Victorian England as the chief mediocrity of the world, is no longer merely provincial, no longer downy and restful in its leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking to conquer the earth... Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations, as a traveling salesman in a brown derby conquers the wisdom of China and tacks advertisements of cigarettes over arches for centuries dedicate to the sayings of Confucius. Such a society functions admirably in the production of cheap automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors. But it is not satisfied until the entire world also admits that the end and joyous purpose of living is to ride in flivvers, to make advertising-pictures of dollar watches, and in the twilight to sit talking not of love and courage but of the convenience of safety razors.
  • Once she kidnapped me and drug me to the Methodist Church. I goes in, pious as Widow Bogart, and sits still and never cracks a smile while the preacher is favoring us with his misinformation on evolution. But afterwards, when the old stalwarts were pumphandling everybody at the door and calling 'em 'Brother' and 'Sister,' they let me sail right by with nary a clinch.
  • Maybe if they didn't know it beforehand, they wouldn't find out I'd ever been guilty of trying to think for myself.
  • The doctor asserted, 'Sure religion is a fine influence—got to have it to keep the lower classes in order—fact, it's the only thing that appeals to a lot of these fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property. And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it out, and they knew more about it than we do.' He believed in the Christian religion, and never thought about it; he believed in the church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she lacked. Carol herself was an uneasy and dodging agnostic. When she ventured to Sunday School and heard the teachers droning that the genealogy of Shamsherai was a valuable ethical problem for children to think about; when she experimented with the Wednesday prayer-meeting and listened to store-keeping elders giving unvarying weekly testimony in primitive erotic symbols and such gory Chaldean phrases as 'washed in the blood of the lamb' and 'a vengeful God...' then Carol was dismayed to find the Christian religion, in America, in the twentieth century, as abnormal as Zoroastrianism—without the splendor. But when she went to church suppers a felt the friendliness, saw the gaiety with which the sisters served cold ham and scalloped potatoes; when Mrs. Champ Perry cried to her, on an afternoon call, 'My dear, if you just knew how happy it makes you to come into abiding grace,' then Carol found the humanness behind the sanguinary and alien theology.
  • There are two insults which no human being will endure: The assertion that he hasn't a sense of humor, and the doubly impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble.
  • She had her freedom, and it was empty. The moment was not the highest of her life, but the lowest and most desolate, which was altogether excellent, for instead of slipping downward she began to climb.
  • Think how much better it is to criticize conventional customs if you yourself live up to them, scrupulously. Then people can't say you're attacking them to excuse your own infractions. Yes, I've heard that plea.... To word it differently, 'You must live up to the popular code if you believe in it; but if you don't believe in it, then you must live up to it!'
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  • The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. ~ Ch. 1 [first sentence]
  • He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding each new intricate mechanism—metal lathe, two-jet carburetor, machine gun, oxyacetylene welder—he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used it over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated. ~ Ch. 6
  • Being a man given to oratory and high principles, he enjoyed the sound of his own vocabulary and the warmth of his own virtue. ~ Ch. 6
  • Babbitt looked up irritably from the comic strips in the Evening Advocate. They composed his favorite literature and art, these illustrated chronicles in which Mr. Mutt hit Mr. Jeff with a rotten egg, and Mother corrected Father's vulgarisms by means of a rolling-pin. With the solemn face of a devotee, breathing heavily through his open mouth, he plodded nightly through every picture, and during the rite he detested interruptions. Furthermore, he felt that on the subject of Shakespeare he wasn't really an authority. Neither the Advocate-Times, the Evening Advocate, nor the Bulletin of the Zenith Chamber of Commerce had ever had an editorial on the matter, and until one of them had spoken he found it hard to form an original opinion. ~ Ch. 6
  • At that moment a G. A. R. veteran was dying. He had come from the Civil War straight to a farm which, though it was officially within the city-limits of Zenith, was primitive as the backwoods. He had never ridden in a motor car, never seen a bath-tub, never read any book save the Bible, McGuffey's readers, and religious tracts; and he believed that the earth is flat, that the English are the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and that the United States is a democracy.~ Ch. 6
  • Rev. Mr. Monday, the Prophet of Punch, has shown that he is the world's greatest salesman of salvation, and that by efficient organization the overhead of spiritual regeneration may be kept down to an unprecedented rock-bottom basis. He has converted over two hundred thousand lost and priceless souls at an average cost of less than ten dollars a head. ~ Ch. 7
  • I hate your city. It has standardized all the beauty out of life. It is one big railroad station—with all the people taking tickets for the best cemeteries. ~ Ch. 7
  • Just as he was an Elk, a Booster, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, just as the priests of the Presbyterian Church determined his every religious belief and the senators who controlled the Republican Party decided in little smoky rooms in Washington what he should think about disarmament, tariff, and Germany, so did the large national advertisers fix the surface of his life, fix what he believed to be his individuality. These standard advertised wares—toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, instantaneous hot-water heaters—were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first sight the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom. ~ Ch. 7
  • What I fight in Zenith is the standardization of thought, and, of course, the traditions of competition. The real villains of the piece are the clean, kind, industrious Family Men who use every known brand of trickery and cruelty to insure the prosperity of their cubs. The worst thing about these fellows is that they're so good and, in their work at least, so intelligent. You can't hate them properly, and yet their standardized minds are the enemy. ~ Ch. 7
  • The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their trouser-pockets, and proclaimed their views with the booming profundity of a prosperous male repeating a thoroughly hackneyed statement about a matter of which he knows nothing whatever. ~ Ch. 8
  • The dinner was the best style of women's-magazine art, whereby the salad was served in hollowed apples, and everything but the invincible fried chicken resembled something else. ~ Ch. 8
  • For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom. ~ Ch. 9
  • They all had the same ideas and expressed them always with the same ponderous and brassy assurance. If it was not Babbitt who was delivering any given verdict, at least he was beaming on the chancellor who did deliver it. ~ Ch. 10
  • Men who had made five thousand, year before last, and ten thousand last year, were urging on nerve-yelping bodies and parched brains so that they might make twenty thousand this year; and the men who had broken down immediately after making their twenty thousand dollars were hustling to catch trains, to hustle through the vacations which the hustling doctors had ordered. ~ Ch. 12
  • The content of his theology was that there was a supreme being who had tried to make us perfect, but presumably had failed; that if one was a Good Man he would go to a place called Heaven.... Upon this theology he rarely pondered. The kernel of his practical religion was that it was respectable, and beneficial to one's business, to be seen going to services; that the church kept the Worst Elements from being still worse; and that the pastor's sermons, however dull they might seem at the time of taking, yet had a voodooistic power which 'did a fellow good — kept him in touch with higher things.' ~ Ch. 16
  • She did her work with the thoroughness of mind which reveres details and never quite understands them. ~ Ch. 18
  • It came to him merely to run away was folly, because he could never run away from himself. ~ Ch. 25
  • They were newly rich contractors who, having bought houses, motors, hand-painted pictures, and gentlemanliness, were now buying a refined ready-made philosophy. It had been a tossup with them whether to buy New Thought, Christian Science, or a good standard high-church model of Episcopalianism. ~ Ch. 30
  • He heard them whispering—whispering... The independence seeped out of him and he walked the streets alone, afraid of men's cynical eyes and the incessant hiss of whispering. ~ Ch. 32
  • All of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary. ~ Ch. 34
  • He was worried lest during his late discontent he had imperiled his salvation. He was not quite sure there was a Heaven to be attained, but Dr. John Jennison said there was, and Babbitt was not going to take a chance. ~ Ch. 34

Arrowsmith (1925)

  • The driver of the wagon swaying through forest and swamp of the Ohio wilderness was a ragged girl of fourteen. ~ Ch. 1, First lines
  • It is not a snobbish rich-man's college, devoted to leisurely nonsense. It is the property of the people of the state, and what they want—or what they are told they want—is a mill to turn out men and women who will lead moral lives, play bridge, drive good cars, be enterprising in business, and occasionally mention books, though they are not expected to have time to read them. It is a Ford Motor Factory, and if its products rattle a little, they are beautifully standardized, with perfectly interchangeable parts. ~ Ch 2
  • He was permitted, without restriction, to speak of himself as immoral, agnostic and socialistic, so long as it was universally known that he remained pure, Presbyterian, and Republican. ~ Ch. 2
  • In the study of the profession to which he had looked forward all his life he found irritation and vacuity as well as serene wisdom; he saw no one clear path to Truth but a thousand paths to a thousand truths far-off and doubtful. ~ Ch. 2
  • Gentlemen, the most important part of living is not the living but the pondering upon it. And the most important part of experimentation is not doing the experiment but making notes, ve-ry accurate quantitative notes — in ink. I am told that a great many clever people feel they can keep notes in their heads. I have often observed with pleasure that such persons do not have heads in which to keep their notes. This iss very good, because thus the world never sees their results and science is not encumbered with them. ~ Gottlieb, Ch. 4
  • There was much conversation, most of which sounded like the rest of it. ~ Ch. 14
  • Like all ardent agnostics, Martin was a religious man. ~ Ch. 16
  • It is one of the major tragedies that nothing is more discomforting than the hearty affection of the Old Friends who never were friends. ~ Ch. 20
  • He preached to himself, as Max Gottlieb had once preached to him, the loyalty of dissent, the faith of being very doubtful, the gospel of not bawling gospels, the wisdom of admitting the probable ignorance of one's self and of everybody else, and the energetic acceleration of a Movement for going very slow. ~ Ch 21
  • Pickerbaugh apparently believed that this research would take six weeks; Martin had hoped to do it in two years; and with the present interruptions it would require two hundred. ~ Ch. 21
  • He still had a fragment of his boyhood belief that congressmen were persons of intelligence and importance. ~ Ch. 22
  • I must say I'm not very fond of oratory that's so full of energy it hasn't any room for facts. ~ Martin, Ch. 22
  • It is not known whether Martin ever completely accepted as a gentleman-scholar the Clay Tredgold who was devoted to everything about astronomy except studying it. ~ Ch. 22
  • She had called Martin a 'lie-hunter,' a 'truth-seeker.' They decided now that most people who call themselves 'truth-seekers'—persons who scurry about chattering of Truth as though it were a tangible separable thing, like houses or salt or bread—did not so much desire to find Truth as to cure their mental itch. In novels, these truth-seekers quested the 'secret of life' in laboratories which did not seem to be provided with Bunsen flames or reagents; or they went, at great expense and much discomfort from hot trains and undesirable snakes, to Himalayan monasteries, to learn from unaseptic sages that the Mind can do all sort of edifying things if one will but spend thirty or forty years in eating rice and gazing on one's navel. To these high matters Martin responded, 'Rot!' He insisted that there is no Truth but only many truths; that Truth is not a colored bird to be chased among the rocks and captured by its tail, but a skeptical attitude toward life. He insisted that no one could expect more than, by stubbornness or luck, to have the kind of work he enjoyed and an ability to become better acquainted with the facts of that work than the average job-holder. ~ Ch. 25
  • Men of measured merriment! Damn the great executives, the men of measured merriment, damn the men with careful smiles, damn the men that run the shops, oh, damn their measured merriment, the men with measured merriment, oh, damn their measured merriment, and DAMN their careful smiles! ~ Ch. 25
  • You have curiosity and you are stubborn. You do not accept rules. Therefore I t'ink you will either make a very good scientist or a very bad one, and if you are bad enough, you will be popular with the rich ladies who rule this city, New York, and you can gif lectures for a living or even become, if you get to be plausible enough, a college president. So anyvay, it will be interesting. ~ Gottlieb, Ch. 26
  • Perhaps I am a crank, Martin. There are many who hate me. There are plots against me—oh, you t'ink I imagine it, but you shall see! I make many mistakes. But one thing I keep always pure: the religion of a scientist.
    To be a scientist—it is not just a different job, so that a man should choose between being a scientist and being an explorer or a bond-salesman or a physician or a king or a farmer. It is a tangle of ver-y obscure emotions, like mysticism, or wanting to write poetry; it makes its victim all different from the good normal man. The normal man, he does not care much what he does except that he should eat and sleep and make love. But the scientist is intensely religious—he is so religious that he will not accept quarter-truths, because they are an insult to his faith.
    He wants that everything should be subject to inexorable laws. He is equal opposed to the capitalists who t'ink their silly money-grabbing is a system, and to liberals who t'ink man is not a fighting animal; he takes both the American booster and the European aristocrat, and he ignores all their blithering. Ignores it! All of it! He hates the preachers who talk their fables, but he iss not too kindly to the anthropologists and historians who can only make guesses, yet they have the nerf to call themselves scientists! Oh, yes, he is a man that all nice good-natured people should naturally hate!
    ~ Gottlieb, Ch. 26
  • He is the only real revolutionary, the authentic scientist, because he alone knows how liddle he knows.
    He must be heartless. He lives in a cold, clear light. Yet dis is a funny t'ing: really, in private, he is not cold nor heartless—so much less cold than the Professional Optimists.
    ~ Gottlieb, Ch. 26
  • They've worked out elaborate charts classifying all intellectual occupations and interests, with the methods and materials and tools, and especially the goals—the aims, the ideals, the moral purposes—that are suited to each of them. Really tremendous! Why, a musician or an engineer, for example, could look at his chart and tell accurately whether he was progressing fast enough, at his age, and if not, just what his trouble was, and the remedy. ~ Ch. 40

Elmer Gantry (1927)

  • Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.
    • First lines
  • He was born to be a senator. He never said anything important, and he always said it sonorously.
  • He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason.
  • Though Frank Shallard might have come to admire pictures, great music, civilized furniture, he had been trained to regard them as worldly, and to content himself with art which 'presented a message,' to regard 'Les Miserables' as superior because the bishop was a kind man, and 'The Scarlet Letter' as a poor book because the heroine was sinful and the author didn't mind.
  • The grateful savants had accepted, and they were spending the rest of their lives reading fifteenth-hand opinions, taking pleasant naps, and drooling out to yawning students the anemic and wordy bookishness which they called learning.
  • His reasoning had been introverted, turned from an examination of men as mammals and devoted to a sorrow that sinful and aching souls should not more readily seek the security of a mystic process known as Conviction, Repentance, and Salvation, which he was assured by the noblest and most literate men he had ever known, was guaranteed to cure all woe. His own experience did not absolutely confirm this.
  • "Even if some details of dogma aren't true—or even all of 'em—think what a consolation religion and the church are to weak humanity!"
    "Are they? I wonder! Don't cheerful agnostics, who know they are going to die dead, worry much less than good Baptists, who worry lest their sons and cousins and sweethearts fail to get into the Baptist heaven—or what is even worse, who wonder if they may not have guessed wrong—if God may not be a Catholic, maybe, or a Mormon or Seventh-day Adventist instead of a Baptist, and then they'll go to hell themselves. Consolation? No!"
  • It was not her eloquence but her healing of the sick which raised Sharon to such eminence that she promised to become the most renowned evangelist in America. People were tired of eloquence; and the whole evangelist business was limited, since even the most ardent were not likely to be saved more than three of four times. But they could be healed constantly, and of the same disease.
  • To one who had never made more than five thousand a year himself, it was inspiring to explain before dozens of popeyed and admiring morons how they could make ten thousand—fifty thousand—a million a year, and all this by the Wonder Power of Suggestion, by Aggressive Personality, by the Divine Rhythm, in fact by merely releasing the Inner Self-shine.
  • He had never been sure but that there might be something to the doctrines he had preached as an evangelist. Perhaps God really had dictated every word of the Bible. Perhaps there really was a hell of burning sulphur. Perhaps the Holy Ghost really was hovering around watching him and reporting. But he knew with serenity that all of his New Thoughts, his theosophical utterances, were pure and uncontaminated bunk. No one could deny his theories because none of his theories meant anything. It did not matter what he said, so long as he kept them listening; and he enjoyed the buoyancy of power as he bespelled his classes with long, involved, fruity sentences rhapsodic as perfume advertisements.
  • What had he learned?
    Enough Hebrew and Greek to be able to crawl through the Bible by using lexicons—so that, like all his classmates once they were out of the seminary, he always read it in English. A good many of the more condemnatory texts of the Bible—rather less than the average Holy Roller carpenter-evangelist. The theory that India and Africa have woes because they are not Christianized, but that Christianized Bangor and Des Moines have woes because the devil, a being obviously more potent than omnipotent God, sneaks around counteracting the work of Baptist preachers.
  • The Maker of the universe with stars a hundred thousand light-years apart was interested, furious, and very personal about it if a small boy played baseball on Sunday afternoon.
  • His text was from Proverbs: "Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins."
    He seized the sides of the pulpit with his powerful hands, glared at the congregation, decided to look benevolent after all, and exploded: "In the hustle and bustle of daily life I wonder how many of us stop to think that in all that is highest and best we are ruled not by even our most up-and-coming efforts but by Love? What is Love—the divine Love of which the—the great singer teaches us in Proverbs? It is the rainbow that comes after the dark cloud. It is the morning star and it is also the evening star, those being, as you all so well know, the brightest stars we know. It shines upon the cradle of the little one and when life has, alas, departed, to come no more, you find it still around the quiet tomb. What is it inspires all great men—be they preachers or patriots or great business men? What is it, my brethren, but Love? Ah, it fills the world with melody, with such sacred melodies as we have just indulged in together, for what is music? What, my friends, is music? Ah, what indeed is music but the voice of Love!"
  • He explained that hatred was low. However, for the benefit of the more leathery and zealous deacons down front, he permitted them to hate all Catholics, all persons who failed to believe in hell and immersion, and all rich mortgage-holders, wantoning in the betraying smiles of scarlet women, each of whom wore silk and in her bejeweled hand held a ruby glass of perfidious wine.
  • He was still not at all certain that he was doing any good, aside from providing the drug of religious hope to timorous folk frightened of hell-fire and afraid to walk alone.
  • I was brought up to believe that the Christian God wasn't a scared and compromising public servant, but the creator of the whole merciless truth, and I reckon that training spoiled me—I actually took my teachers seriously!
  • A proper school should teach nothing but bookkeeping, agriculture, geometry, dead languages made deader by leaving out all the amusing literature, and the Hebrew Bible as interpreted by men superbly trained to ignore contradictions, men technically called "Fundamentalists".
  • Just what are the teachings of Christ? Did he come to bring peace or more war? He says both. Did he approve earthly monarchies or rebel against them? He says both. Did he ever - think of it, God himself, taking on human form to help the earth - did he ever suggest sanitation, which would have saved millions from plagues? And you can't say his failure there was because he was too lofty to consider mere sickness. On the contrary, he was awfully interested in it, always healing some one - providing they flattered his vanity enough!
    What did he teach? One place in the Sermon on the Mount he advises - let me get my Bible - here it is: 'Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven,' and then five minutes later he's saying, 'Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." That's an absolute contradiction, in the one document which is the charter of the whole Christian Church. Oh, I know you can reconcile them, Phil. That's the whole aim of the ministerial training: to teach us to reconcile contradictions by saying that one of them doesn't mean what it means - and it's always a good stunt to throw in 'You'd understand it if you'd only read it in the original Greek'!

It Can't Happen Here (1935)

Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn "reasonable" and become your enemies, one quarter are afraid to speak, and one quarter are killed and you die with them. But the blessed final quarter keep you alive.
  • Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn "reasonable" and become your enemies, one quarter are afraid to speak, and one quarter are killed and you die with them. But the blessed final quarter keep you alive.
  • So debated Doremus, like some hundreds of thousands of other craftsmen, teachers, lawyers, what-not, in some dozens of countries under a dictatorship, who were aware enough to resent the tyranny, conscientious enough not to take its bribes cynically, yet not so abnormally courageous as to go willingly to exile or dungeon or chopping-block—particularly when they "had wives and families to support."
  • He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts—figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.
  • "Why are you so afraid of the word 'Fascism,' Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours—not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini—like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good old days—and have 'em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again. 'Nother words, have a doctor who won't take any back-chat, but really boss the patient and make him get well whether he likes it or not!"
  • "No one abhors violence more than I do. Still, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs—"
    "Hell and damnation!"
    "Why, Pater!"
    "Don't call me 'Pater'! If I ever hear that 'can't make an omelet' phrase again, I'll start doing a little murder myself! It's used to justify every atrocity under every despotism, Fascist or Nazi or Communist or American labor war. Omelet! Eggs! By God, sir, men's souls and blood are not eggshells for tyrants to break!"
    • Argument between Doremus and his son, Philip
  • I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne.
    • President Buzz Windrip in his autobiography "Zero Hour."
  • Despite strikes and riots all over the country, bloodily put down by the Minute Men, Windrip's power in Washington was maintained. The most liberal four members of the Supreme Court resigned and were replaced by surprisingly unknown lawyers who called President Windrip by his first name. A number of Congressmen were still being "protected" in the District of Columbia jail; others had seen the blinding light forever shed by the goddess Reason and happily returned to the Capitol. The Minute Men were increasingly loyal—they were still unpaid volunteers, but provided with "expense accounts" considerably larger than the pay of the regular troops. Never in American history had the adherents of a President been so well satisfied; they were not only appointed to whatever political jobs there were but to ever so many that really were not; and with such annoyances as Congressional Investigations hushed, the official awarders of contracts were on the merriest of terms with all contractors. . . . One veteran lobbyist for steel corporations complained that there was no more sport in his hunting—you were not only allowed but expected to shoot all government purchasing-agents sitting.

The God-Seeker (1949)

  • Aaron was uncomfortable and a little afraid. This, he thought, is how God might pray to his God. ~ Ch. 1
  • Reverend Lucius Fairlow... a mild-spoken young-old man with mild chestnut hair and a mild chestnut mustache and a conservative theology which stuck mildly to the pleasant certainties of God's anger and eternal hellfire. ~ Ch. 2
  • Aaron had learned… from Mr. Fairlow's two-hour sermons on "The Jealousy of an Angry Jehovah Who Hath Weighed Sinners in the Balance and Found Them Wanting",... that God was a torturer who punished small boys for sins they might commit later. ~ Ch. 3
  • Good sense from a child was not necessarily contemptible beside foolishness from a grown-up. ~ Ch. 3
  • When you think that most of us are doomed by divine grace to roast in hell, to say nothing of mortgages and hail and bad crops and extravagant womenfolks, 'tain't any laughing matter! ~ Ch. 3
  • It might be the doing of Satan, in whom Aaron anxiously believed with all of his being except, perhaps, his mind. ~ Ch. 4
  • It was of no use. That particular sort of coward and evader he was not, and he lay abed facing all his sins, all his slacknesses, and the merited punishment by a just and angry God. ~ Ch. 5
  • Deacon Uriel Gadd was a man of integrity, granite-rough and lichen-coated. The punishment in his rheumatism, clearly sent of God, and the defection of his son Elijah, had weakened him only in making him somewhat less contemptuous of his sentimental son Aaron. All other persons he divided into fools, scoundrels and the blessedly elect, with only himself indisputably in the last class. ~ Ch. 6
  • Hours then of blasphemy and fury and debate, all in the theological terms that seem shocking to the literate citizens today, who believe in God but just don't care to mention him or any of the other lowly friends they knew before they went to Yale. ~ Ch. 6
  • Everything seemed confused and contradictory, and he longed for one clear command from a divine martinet. ~ Ch. 7
  • Maybe he was not a good-enough Christian to get the proper zest out of mortifying his indolent flesh. ~ Ch. 15
  • Now we got a lawyer, we got civilization, which I understand to mean that a man has a chance to get rich without working. ~ Ch. 17
  • The more the Dakota have to do with the white, the worse. The whites give him whiskey to get his furs and bimeby he don't want to trap so many furst but he want plenty more whiskey. The white traders take his girl, and all he get in swap is a disease. They take his land, and all he get is a leetle annuity so he don't do any work and starve slow. The Indian gets white man's gun an he is drunk and kill his own brother and they call him sinful. That's what he get from the white man—fine kettle, fine gun, fine blanket, the big pox, the small pox and religion. ~ Ch. 20
  • Mostly the adult Indians did not wish their children to learn these arts from the emissaries of what they astonishingly considered an alien, false and hostile God. ~ Ch. 21
  • As they talked around the fire in the sitting-room, he was embarrassed by the nakedness of their piety. ~ Ch. 22
  • When he gets uppity about his supposed learning, I just take it on myself to remind him that God and his angels know almost as much as college professors ~ Ch. 23
  • He prayed, 'Lord God, let us be the kind of Christians that you would be if you were a Christian'. ~ Ch. 24
  • Aaron began to learn the Dakota language. Isaac, like a newly ordained Doctor of Philosophy, after years of being nagged into learning, rejoiced to be invited to stand up and look important and teach. He was astonished by his own erudition and by the fact that his class of one did not walk out. ~ Ch. 31
  • He fretted that he did not know anything. He sighed, 'I have sought the Kingdom of God a little, the Squire has sought it terribly, but we haven't even a map, and after what I saw this afternoon, I know the Sioux are as barbarous as we are. Is it possible that nobody has ever known—that there never has been a completely civilized man, and won't be for another thousand years? ~ Ch. 33
  • Indians, of course, have no 'theology,' and indeed no word for the system of credulity in which the white priests arrange for God, who must be entirely bewildered by it, a series of excuses for his failures. ~ Ch. 41
  • We should adopt Jesus boldly, and send missionaries to explain him to the whites, except that no Indian except one very old and sick and never much good in warfare would be pompous enough to tell alien peoples what he thinks they should believe. ~ Ch. 41
  • He had unhappily noticed at the mission that when he had most hotly prayed, it had been a way of escaping a decision, of frivolously passing the lot to God. ~ Ch. 50
  • I've sat at the preachers' feet and listened to them, faithfully, and tried to make myself become what they said I ought to be. I'm through! I do my own thinking now and my own bossing. ~ Ch. 51
  • It did seem sounder to build houses which he could build than to teach children a gospel which he did not altogether understand in a Sioux language which he could not quite speak. He reflected, 'If I could put over some kind of equality for Mark Shadrock and Black Wolf, that would be enough heavenly progress for me.' ~ Ch. 53
  • I don't believe in fear of divine vengeance, and I do believe in justice and equality.... ~ Ch. 57
  • An ugly woodshed that's there, right on the ground, is handsomer to me than a ten-story temple that isn't there. ~ Ch. 57
  • I have faith in Faith, I have reverence for all true Reverence. ~ Ch. 59

About Sinclair Lewis

  • Sinclair Lewis was a crypto-sentimentalist and a slovenly writer who managed a slight falsification of life in order to move the reader.
  • Sinclair Lewis knew about the crazed feeling that you get when people think you’re a pleasant person. You get all this praise for your good behavior but inside you’re seething.
  • His central characters are the pioneer, the doctor, the scientist, the businessman, and the feminist. The appeal of his best fiction lies in the opposition between his idealistic protagonists and an array of fools, charlatans, and scoundrels - evangelists, editorialists, pseudo-artists, cultists, and boosters.
    • Martin Light in The Quixotic Vision of Sinclair Lewis (1975)
  • I have defined the hundred per cent American as ninety-nine per cent an idiot.
  • What was once Sinclair Lewis is buried in no ground. Even in life he was fully alive only in his writing. He lives in public libraries from Maine to California, in worn copies in the bookshelves of women from small towns who, in their girlhood, imagined themselves as Carol Kennicotts, and of medical men who, as youths, were inspired by Martin Arrowsmith.
    • Dorothy Thompson, his ex-wife, in "The Boy From Sauk Center" in The Atlantic (November 1960)
  • While I have never been of the majority that considers the Sinclair Lewis of Main Street and Babbitt a major novelist, I feel sad to report of Gideon Planish that I found it unimportant, sloppy, even dull. There is something endearing about Mr. Lewis as a writer that checks an entirely objective estimate of his recent work-perhaps his boyish idealism of which he is so boyishly ashamed, or the fact that his fictional creations seem so clearly to be aspects of his own many-faceted personality that one feels that to turn on him is to take unfair advantage of what he has been naïve enough to tell us about himself.


  • When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
    • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century: "in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club [Wise] said that Hearst and Coughlin are the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any 'shirt' movement, nor with an 'insignia,' but it will probably be 'wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.'"[1]
    • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): "When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled 'made in Germany'; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, 'Americanism.'" (This quote is also attributed in a New York Times article from September 12, 1938, page 15 as having been given in one of Luccock's sermons.)
    • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked about Lewis: "Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can't Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling 'The Star Spangled Banner.'" [2]
  1. The Christian Century, Volume 53, Feb 5, 1936, p. 245
  2. p. 29, The Many Americas Shall Be One, Harrison Evans Salisbury. Published by W. W. Norton, 1971.