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 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A young man named Icilius “Ned” Conner moves to Chicago with his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Pearl. He begins working at a jewelry counter in Holmes’s building in Englewood. As he settles in his new life, a new elevated train line, the Alley L, is built, connecting Englewood to Jackson Park. Ned admires Holmes for already owning his own building, and notes that his success, inconceivable elsewhere, is almost ordinary in Chicago.
Larson tells this section of the story from Ned’s point of view, using indirect discourse. Though Ned doesn’t realize that the Alley L will make it easier for Holmes to attract visitors from around the country, we know this by now. Similarly, we know that Holmes’s appearance of success is just that — an appearance, based on lies and crime.
Themes
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
Holmes hires Julia and Ned’s sister, Gertrude, for his pharmacy. Ned notices that Holmes seems overly attentive to both women, and that they enjoy his company in return. Ned begins to feel that Gertrude and Julia are ignoring him, and that customers treat him with pity. Holmes asks him to test a soundproof vault. Ned is disturbed by the vault, but doesn’t question why Holmes needs it.
Like many of the people who interact with Holmes, Ned senses that something is wrong with Holmes’s interactions with women and his plans for his building, but he doesn’t bother to determine what it is. Holmes preys on others’ ignorance and disinterest.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Letters arrive in Chicago from parents of young women who have moved to the city. The parents want information about their children’s whereabouts, but the police are too busy and incompetent to investigate these disappearances seriously. So many people disappear that police officers propose founding a separate department for these cases. Men and women disappear in equal number. When corpses are found, they are often sold to medical schools, first for dissection and then as skeletons. Much like in stockyards, nothing is wasted.
In the war between law and order, the law is badly outnumbered. The police force is small and poorly organized, meaning that criminals like Holmes can often get away with their misdeeds easily. People recognize that the police force needs to be reformed, but these changes happen slowly and inefficiently. Larson draws a disturbing link between serial killers and Chicago businesses: they don’t waste anything.
Themes
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon