The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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The Devil in the White City Part 1, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Holmes plans to turn his new building into a cheap hotel for World’s Fair visitors. When the fair is finished, he will burn the hotel and collect an insurance policy. He knows that he will have to dispose of the incriminating materials in the building, and that even a small piece of evidence left behind could get him the death penalty.
Larson doesn’t reveal what the “incriminating evidence” could be, but by now, it seems likely that he is referring to human corpses, or bits of them. Holmes is a good planner, always thinking of small details.
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Holmes modifies his building for his new plans, hiring workers for short periods so that none of them get a sense for the overall layout. He invites police officers for food and cigars. Though his debts are increasing, he is able to persuade creditors to look for H.S. Campbell, and in the meantime he simply borrows money from others. He also begins selling fake drugs to cure baldness and alcoholism.
Holmes’s deceptions seem almost effortless. He woos the police force with cigars, dispelling any suspicions they might have had, and continues to spend more than he has simply by changing his name. He is extremely ambitious, always looking for new ways to make money — in this case, by selling fake medicines.
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Myrta’s great uncle, Jonathan Belknap, who has money, visits her in Illinois. Holmes begins to visit Myrta more frequently, charming the family. Belknap doesn’t trust Holmes, but finds him acceptable, and when Holmes asks him for 2,500 dollars for a new house for himself and Myrta, Belknap gives him the money. Holmes then forges Belknap’s signature and writes a second banknote for the name amount. He also invites Belknap to Chicago for a tour of his new hotel. Belknap is initially reluctant to go, since he finds Holmes disturbing, but he eventually agrees.
Belknap is seemingly the only person who isn’t charmed by Holmes. That he is an old, experienced man, not a young, innocent woman, has a lot to do with this. It’s disturbing that Belknap agrees to visit Holmes even after he finds him untrustworthy — humans go against their instincts, simply to avoid offending other people, and they also lack the imagination to believe in the evil that is truly possible.
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In Chicago, Belknap is disgusted by the smells of the city, but Holmes seems not to mind them. Holmes shows him around his new hotel, which he finds strange and gloomy, and introduces him to Patrick Quinlan, the caretaker. Holmes suggests that Belknap see the view from the roof, but Belknap lies and says that he is too old to climb so high. Holmes suggests that Belknap spend the night, and though Belknap initially refuses, he eventually gives in. That night, Belknap hears Quinlan trying to enter his room, but he refuses to let him in. He later discovers that Holmes has forged his signature on a banknote, though Holmes apologizes so emotionally that Belknap doesn’t pursue the matter further. Belknap later realizes that Holmes wanted to kill him in Chicago by pushing him off the roof.
Belknap has the more common reaction to Chicago — disgust at the smells of the stockyards. Holmes, by contrast, is an outsider, yet he enjoys the Chicago environment. It’s as if Chicago attracts immoral and sociopathic people and repels the good ones. Yet even after Belknap realizes that Holmes forged his signature and tried to kill him, he does almost nothing to bring him to justice. Holmes’s plans are sometimes easy to see through, but even when this is the case, he is charismatic and persuasive enough to prevent others from reporting him to the police.
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Holmes tries to buy a kiln for the basement of his hotel. He claims to be the founder of a glass company, and purchases a kiln that, he’s disappointed to find, cannot reach temperatures high enough for his purposes, or get rid of odors. Holmes talks to a man from the furnace company, who asks to see the furnace; Holmes refuses at first, then agrees. The furnace is large, and to the man from the furnace company, seems unsuitable for bending glass. He also notes that it looks more like a crematory for corpses. Nevertheless, he installs a new heating facility that can create temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit; Holmes is satisfied.
Chicago is a city dominated by industry. This gives it an impersonal, alienating touch. Thus, the man from the furnace company doesn’t bother to ask why Holmes wants such a large, hot kiln, even though he specifically notices that it looks like a tool for disposing of bodies, rather than bending glass. The fast pace of life in Chicago makes it infinitely easier for Holmes to get away with his crimes, for people to not pay attention or follow up.
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Holmes spends more and more time away from Myrta and his daughter, though he sends them money. He insures his daughter’s life, since children can die so unexpectedly. His store is doing well, though the task of building the hotel proceeds slowly. He hires desperate workers who are willing to take any job. Meanwhile, two new women have entered his life. One is married, with a child, which Holmes thinks makes the situation more interesting; the other is her sister-in-law. Both are beautiful.
Holmes’s neglect of Myrta and his daughter indicates that he was only interested in her again because of the prospect of stealing money from Belknap. While he doesn’t seem attracted to women themselves, Holmes enjoys the pursuit and winning women — thus, a married woman is more interesting than a single one.
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