Analysis of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City

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The World Fair of 1933 brought promise of new hope and pride for the representation of Chicago, America. As Daniel Burnham built and protected America’s image through the pristine face of the fair, underlying corruption and social pollution concealed themselves beneath Chicago’s newly artificial perfection. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City meshes two vastly different stories within 19th century America and creates a symbolic narrative about the maturing of early Chicago. From first impression, Burnham found that Chicago had a murky factorial image lined with a “fantastic stink that lingered in the vicinity of Union Stock yards” (41). The dreadful surface that Chicago was maintaining allowed Burnham to be determined to collaborate and recreate its image. His efforts would also make a reputational comeback for America’s poor representation in the Exposition Universelle (15). One major feature that transformed public opinion of the state was to illuminate the entire fair with clean white buildings that outlined the goodness of the area (252). Eye-catching whiteness contradicted the presumed dirtiness of the town. Making a contradiction from what was assumed of the city would allow the fair to generate a much bigger transformation. The lights also gave the fair a unique, whimsical edge. “The lamps that laced every building and walkway produced the most elaborate demonstration of electric illumination ever attempted”, incorporating new technology in a grand-scale way merely to keep the theme of brightness ongoing throughout each day and night (254). Most importantly, it displayed the town’s potential to become a thriving and respected city. The theme of whiteness interlaced with the neoclassical outline in The World Fair’s de... ... middle of paper ... linked by a single magical event”—the creation of Chicago’s World Fair (xi). Burnham was able to use his power to create something revolutionarily and fantastically good by inviting new ideas to the world and Holmes used his power to effortlessly get away with murder an astounding amount of times. With this, they both found their way to the World Fair. Though it was non-fictional, Larson was able to make their histories into a thought-provoking and captivating narrative, with an intensity and closeness not seen in most history books. Using this closeness, and carefully analytical observation of historic documents, Larson used Burnham and Holmes as examples of the state of Chicago during the 1800s. The novel captures the mayhem of a disorganized yet quickly-advancing time. Works Cited Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.
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