"The Conquest of Canaan", originally published in Harper's Magazine between June and December of 1905 is yet another story set in a small town in Indiana, and it bears many similarities to his first novel, "The Gentleman from Indiana", and "The Two Vanrevels". In all cases, the hero is an exceptional person who takes on the less scrupulous people. In his first novel, everyone in the town of Platville respected the hero John Harkness, and his enemies were the White Caps (a thinly veiled parody of the Klan). In "The Two Vanrevels", the hero is John Vanrevel, who is once again respected by almost the entire town, but his significant enemy is the rich and powerful Mr. Carewe. In this novel, the hero, Joe Louden is the hero of the misfortunate, but spurned by the "respectable" members of the town of Canaan, led by Judge Pike. To this hero, Tarkington adds his heroine, Ariel Tabor, who similarly is not regarded as a good person by the important members of the town.
In both cases, the characters have to leave town and then return to gain their respectability. Joe does this by putting himself through law school, though when he returns he is still looked down upon, and as he usually represents the lower classes and destitute, his reputation does not immediately improve. Ariel goes to Europe with her father after inheriting money, and when she returns she has gained respect by dressing and speaking correctly. In addition, she wins over Joe, who always overlooked Ariel in their childhood, instead he was in love with his neighbor Mamie Pike, the daughter of the judge. As with the others in the town, Joe is entranced by the returning Ariel, and he realizes his mistake when he was younger. Ariel has always cared for Joe, and with her help, he slowly builds up respect with the entire town, other than those fiercely loyal to Judge Pike.
This is a fairly standard Tarkington, and given its similarities to the previous two works of his, it is difficult to recommend it very highly. It is better than his first novel, but not nearly as good as "The Two Vanrevels", as he fails to build the drama the way he did in that prior work by using the backdrop of the war. At the same time, it is a fairly straight-forward and easy read, and there are no major problems with it, so I will give it three stars.