Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Kathleen Donovan


Although the transcendent is not generally their central theme, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Nella Larsen all share with Rudolf Otto and Martin Buber a concern, manifest in their writings, that to remove the non-rational elements from our understanding and experience of the transcendent dangerously distorts it and can lead to dire consequences. The mistaken attitude of America's religious heartland toward transcendence led Lewis to write his scathing "preacher novel" Elmer Gantry in which transcendence is reduced to the moralistic plane and results in violence. Fitzgerald echoes Otto by criticizing America's commercialism as a practical negation of transcendence wrapped in a religious veneer. His "Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is a masterful work decrying those who substitute material for spiritual wealth. Larsen echoes Fitzgerald and Otto in Quicksand, when her protagonist is taken into captivity by a religious community that should have given her freedom and solace. Cather, however, sees the transcendent as both bane and boon, bane when Claude Wheeler's misunderstanding of the transcendent leads him to die in World War I ( One of Ours), boon when it evokes in an aging priest an understanding of the mysterious nature of his divine mission (Death Comes for the Archbishop).

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott), 1896-1940 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Larsen, Nella -- Criticism and interpretation.
Cather, Willa, 1873-1947 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Transcendence (Philosophy) in literature.
American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.


South Dakota State University



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