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 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In early 1892, the Fair is progressing slowly but steadily: though the winter is one of the coldest in Chicago history, several of the buildings are almost finished. Elias Disney, father of Walt Disney, works on the construction for the Fair, and will later tell his son about the elaborate sights. At the same time, economic problems and labor strikes increase crime and violence in Chicago by almost 40%. The nation is also riveted by the murder trial of Lizzie Borden, who is accused of murdering her parents with an axe.
The tense mood at the WF site seems closely connected to the tensions in Chicago itself: the new density and heterogeneity of the city leads to more violence and crime, including the kind of crime Lizzie Borden — and Holmes — commits. Yet this is also a time of wonder — Walt Disney, after all, grew up hearing about the WF, and it may have inspired his creative projects.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Burnham is unusually kind to his workers: he pays them sick leave, gives them eight-hour work days, and feeds them three meals a day. But with the economic problems Chicago is experiencing, and the rapidly shrinking funds available for the Fair, he fires workers, knowing full well that some of them will die as a result of this sudden loss of income.
Burnham is a rigorous leader, but also a fair one, at least for the time. Yet his priority is always completing the WF on time, not making his worker’s happy. This suggests that he had treated his workers well beforehand because he knew it was a good strategy, not because he thought it was the moral thing to do.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Burnham receives hundreds of plans for elaborate towers and buildings meant to rival the Eiffel Tower, but he publicly criticizes the architects of the United States for failing to rise to Eiffel’s challenge. One architect who hears Burnham speak is inspired to design an elaborate building, which he hopes will bring him great fame.
Burnham hopes to inspire the architects of the United States to greater success; it would seem that he succeeds. Larson doesn’t reveal the architect’s name, building suspense and encouraging us to keep reading.
Themes
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
Burnham argues with the Director-General of the World’s Columbian Exposition Company, George Davis. He asks Davis to allow him creative control over the Fair’s exhibits, but Davis publicly says that he is in charge of the exhibits now. Burnham writes to his wife that he is tired and wants the Fair to be completed.
Davis understands that pubic perception is extremely important in running the Fair; by telling others that he runs the Fair, he comes closer to actually running it. In a way, his “lie” is similar to Holmes’s lies simply in the sense that both understand the way that people work and believe what they hear.
Themes
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
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Burnham and Davis testify at a preliminary Congressional session in Chicago to ask for more money to complete the Fair. The questions are highly detailed, and Davis’s answers imply that Burnham has lied about their expenses. Burnham is furious, and accuses Davis of knowing nothing about the Fair, a statement he eventually withdraws but does not apologize for. The World’s Columbian Exposition Company heads to Washington to attend a national hearing and ask for money.
The WF progresses slowly because so many talented, outspoken people are involved with it. Clashes like the one between Burnham and Davis are in this sense inevitable. Burnham is particularly offended by Davis’s comments because he attacks Burnham’s reputation in front of Congress — Burnham gets involved in the WF in the first place to create a lasting legacy for himself,
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
The Midway Plaisance, a central boulevard and park, slowly takes shape. Sol Bloom, now largely in charge of organizing the Midway’s exhibits, wants the area to be exciting and entertaining. He encourages people to bring exotic spectacles from around the world, and says that the Midway will be large enough to hold the standing army of Russia — a dubious claim, but one which tourists find very exciting.
Bloom rises quickly at the WF because he’s an excellent promoter, and knows how to attract interest in the event, even if it involves distorting the truth a little. He understands that people will come to the WF because they’re curious about the rest of the world.
Themes
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon