The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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The Devil in the White City Part 2, Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is April 1893, and the weather is beautiful. Ferris’s wheel is one eighth of the way finished, the white paint Millet has chosen to paint the buildings is beginning to chip slightly, and seven workers have died building the World’s Fair. Still, Burnham is pleased with the progress of the Fair. He attends a sumptuous dinner in New York, organized by Charles McKim; the guests toast his great achievements.
Burnham is a busy man, but he doesn’t lose sight of the fact that he’s designing the Fair for the glory and recognition it will afford him, both during his life and after it. The dinner in New York is only one of the many honors he’ll earn for his work.
Themes
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Olmsted does not attend the dinner in New York. Some guess that he is not present because the dinner is meant to honor painting, sculpture, and architecture, and he is insulted at the absence of landscaping. This would be uncharacteristic of Olmsted, Larson argues. In reality, he is too busy designing houses for the Vanderbilt family.
Olmsted appears upset to his colleagues, whether or not he really is. He is not talented at cultivating friendships and putting on an appearance of friendliness, as Harrison and Burnham are. His devotion to his craft far outweighs his devotion to his colleagues.
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Great progress has been made in the World’s Fair. The six most important buildings have been completed, and more than 200 others are well under way. The sculptor Daniel Chester French has created an enormous “Statue of the Republic.” McKim privately notes that the overall effect of the Fair is imposing, and possibly too imposing, particularly in the case of the colossal Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building. Burnham is untroubled by the hugeness of the buildings, and even when a carpenters’ strike threatens to jeopardize building, he is able to find enough non-union carpenters to carry on as usual.
The scale of the buildings convinces others — not just Olmsted and Sullivan — that the spirit of the WF is being crushed. Burnham, as always, cares more about the practical side of building the Fair than the aesthetic experience it will create for tourists. He has to be thinking about processes of engineering and design, and not only the final product.
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Burnham becomes more concerned in June, as the carpenters’ strike becomes more serious, and he begins to have a harder time finding new workers. He is equally upset that his wife, Margaret, does not send him enough letters.
Burnham’s problems with the Fair often coincide with his problems with his family — thus, his problems often worsen each other. Note how he wants his wife to support him, while thinking less about how he can support her.
Themes
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Buffalo Bill opens his own “Wild West Show” next to the World’s Fair on April 3. In his show, he mimes killing Native Americans, and reenacts famous Western battles like the Battle of Little Big Horn. He has frequent affairs with women, even though he’s married. At one point during his time in Chicago his wife catches him in a hotel with another woman.
The “Wild West” show celebrates the settling and conquering of North America by the United States, and in doing so celebrates the defeat and killing of its native inhabitants. Larson is here making sure that the reader understands that the WF is built on national patriotism which is itself built on the wholesale destruction of the Native Americans. And, further, in Buffalo Bill there is another example of a “great” man treating women like objects, just another thing to be conquered.
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Burnham negotiates with carpenters and ironworkers, afraid that their strikes could disrupt the Fair. They settle on a minimum wage and extra pay for work on holidays and Sundays. This is a major victory for unions, and it encourages workers across the country to imitate the tactics of the World’s Fair carpenters.
Burnham’s concern with the WF leads him to give in to union negotiations. The influence and visibility of the Fair is to great that this has ramifications for many other unions, and so just as the fair influenced the direction of the national electric grid toward AC current as described in Part 2, Chapter 3, it also influenced national labor relations.
Themes
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Olmsted returns to Chicago, and blames his absence for the unfinished nature of the landscaping. Olmsted is concerned that Burnham is more loyal to Ulrich, Olmsted’s superintendent, than to Olmsted himself. Important shipments of plants fail to arrive on time, and the lack of rain means that Olmsted has to wait to plant trees and flowers. He becomes ill again. Still, he is pleased with the boats Burnham has selected, and happy with the flowers planted so far.
Olmsted understands that he is important for the success of the WF, and he is realistic enough to blame himself when he recognizes that he has made a mistake. As with Burnham, his personal problems, such as illness, often reflect the problem he’s experiencing with his job.
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Prendergast’s mental health continues to decline; at one point, someone sees him walk into a tree.
Prendergast seems more pathetic than dangerous — it’s not yet clear what he’s going to do, though Larson hints that he will turn violent.
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It begins to regularly rain heavily, slowing the workers’ progress, causing leaks in buildings, and destroying electrical circuits. Burnham is concerned that the weather poses a challenge to the completion of the World’s Fair, and longs for his wife. The rain creates more irregularities in the landscape, worrying Olmsted.
Olmstead is more concerned with landscaping than buildings. This makes him largely immune to the effects of collapsed roofs and striking workers. Still, he is especially vulnerable to the changes in the weather.
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Olmsted falls into poor health again, and he is depressed to learn that many think that the landscaping is lackluster. Burnham suggests that he use shortcuts to ensure that the landscaping is finished on time, such as using potted plants for decorations. Olmsted refuses to use these measures, since he dislikes their showiness and knows that they will have to be replaced as soon as the Ceremony is complete.
Olmsted is highly concerned about others’ impressions of his work — thus, when he hears that people dislike it, he is hurt. His decisions at the WF combine his aesthetic tastes and his practicality: he doesn’t accept potted plants for both aesthetic and practical reasons.
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The Opening Ceremony will begin with a parade, headed by Grover Cleveland, the new President of the United States. Officials and rulers from around the world travel to Chicago by boat and train. On the night before opening day, a British reporter named F. Herbert Stead visits Jackson Park and notes that there is garbage and debris everywhere.
With the second part of his book drawing to a close, Larson suggests that the Fair has great challenges ahead of it, even as it’s about to begin. By noting what reporters thought, he suggests that Burnham and his colleagues’ responsibilities have shifted from managing the control of buildings to managing the perception of the WF, both for newspapers and, indirectly, for the tourists who come to visit it.
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As Chicago prepares for the Opening Ceremony, Holmes prepares for guests at his World’s Fair Hotel.
Holmes capitalizes on the popularity of the WF — Larson can’t write about him without writing about the society and the spectacle that provided him with so many victims.
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