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 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Julia tells Holmes that she is pregnant, and that they must marry. Holmes pretends to be overjoyed, though he tells Julia that she must have an abortion, which he sets for Christmas Eve. Because having a child out of wedlock is shocking at the time, Holmes now exercises complete power over Julia. Julia agrees to the abortion, and puts her daughter to bed on Christmas Eve, saying that she’ll see her tomorrow.
Holmes enjoys the power he exercises over Julia. Based on everything we know about him so far, we sense that he will dispose of Julia rather than marry her; thus, the scene in which Julia says goodnight to her child is highly poignant.
Themes
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Holmes brings Julia to his basement, where he uses chloroform to murder her. Before dying, Julia struggles to break free, which Holmes finds extremely arousing. The next day, Christmas, the Crowe family, which lives in Holmes’s building, is surprised that Julia and her daughter are not present. Holmes tells them that Julia and her child have gone away to Davenport, Iowa.
Holmes enjoys struggle, and thus Julia’s death is enormously pleasurable to him. He finds lying easy, and when he tells the Crowes that Julia is gone, he convinces them. The Crowes, for their part, would rather believe that Julia has left suddenly than believe that she is dead — the very strangeness of Holmes’s actions are his alibi.
Themes
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Holmes summons his associate, Charles Chappell, and shows him the corpse of an unusually tall woman. He explains that corpses are in short supply, and that doctors need them to learn their craft. At the time, doctors are indeed desperate for corpses and skeleton, ignoring the source of these bodies. Chappell isn’t puzzled by the presence of the woman’s corpse, since he knows Holmes is a doctor. He takes the corpse and, on Holmes’s request, removed the skin and muscle. Holmes sells the skeleton to a medical school for a large sum.
Though Chappell doesn’t realize it, the corpse is that of Julia, the woman Holmes has just killed. Chappell doesn’t think twice about the corpse’s identity; he is, in many ways, a typical professional: he doesn’t ask too many questions, and his need for money trumps his curiosity and suspicion. Yet he has also just been given a dead body, and asks no questions! His lack of care or curiosity is outrageous, and yet only an exaggerated version of everyone else’s lack of care or curiosity.
Themes
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
A new family, the Doyles, moves into Julia’s old room, where they see her possessions still laid out. Holmes explains that Julia’s sister has fallen ill, and that she and her daughter have left the city. Later on, Holmes will say that Julia pretended to go to Iowa to confuse her husband, Ned, but actually went elsewhere. He will also say that he was never romantically involved with Julia, and that she never got an abortion.
Holmes pretends that Julia is the deceptive, untrustworthy one, lying about where she was traveling, when in fact it is Holmes himself who excels as lying and deceiving. The simplicity of his lies is almost disturbing — after the ugly, complex process of killing Julia and selling the skeleton, lying is the easy part for him.
Themes
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