The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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Blue Eyes Symbol Icon
In spite of the ultimate success of the Ferris Wheel, it’s installed at the World’s Fair so late that it doesn’t make remotely as much money as it could have had Daniel Burnham accepted it a year earlier. Most ironically, though the wheel is meant to be a symbol of America’s technological power, there are actually far more impressive monuments elsewhere at the World’s Fair, including the the AC light bulb and the moving picture. Thus, while the Ferris Wheel exemplifies America at its best, it also alludes to America’s propensity for poor planning, sloppiness, preference for spectacle over substance, and short-sightedness.

Blue Eyes Quotes in The Devil in the White City

The The Devil in the White City quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blue Eyes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Devil in the White City published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

He had dark hair and striking blue eyes, once likened to the eyes of a Mesmerist. “The eyes are very big and wide open,” a physician named John L. Capen later observed. “They are blue. Great murderers, like great men in other walks of activity, have blue eyes.”

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes's appearance isn't what one usually associates with murderers: he's calm, innocent, and friendly-looking. As the quote makes clear, Holmes's blue eyes and innocent appearance made him "great" at what he did—namely, murdering innocent people.

The quotation further suggests that Holmes was able to murder so may innocent people because his appearance deceived his victims into viewing him as a friend. Holmes was able to establish trust between himself and his patrons at the hotel. In this way, he managed to gain access to people's money, family, and property; and when he'd succeeded in doing so, he would murder again and move on to a new prospect.

The quote about Holmes's blue eyes also brings up a connection implicitly made by the novel itself—the similarities between Holmes and the men designing the World's Fair. "Greatness" here has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with skill, intelligence, and success. Thus Holmes and Burnham are both "great men" in this sense, even if one is a serial killer and one a family man and famous architect.

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Part 3, Chapter 12 Quotes

Holmes was such a charming man. And now that Anna knew him, she saw that he really was quite handsome. When his marvelous blue eyes caught hers, they seemed to warm her entire body. Minnie had done well indeed.

Related Characters: Minnie R. Williams
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Holmes works his seductive magic on Anna Williams, the naive sister of Minnie Williams—the woman whom Holmes has already seduced, with the aim of stealing her inheritance. The passage is written in "indirect discourse"—written in the third person, yet also from the limited perspective of one of the characters (in this case, Anna). By writing the scene indirectly, Larson allows readers to note the contrast between what we know about Holmes (namely, that he's a despicable murderer) and what Anna thinks she knows about Holmes (that he's a handsome, charming man). By this point in the novel, we know that Holmes's blue eyes are fearsome—a symbol of his cold, uncaring nature. Yet they're also attractive and alluring; here, for example, the last sentence clearly shows that Anna is infatuated with Holmes.

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Blue Eyes Symbol Timeline in The Devil in the White City

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blue Eyes appears in The Devil in the White City. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 3: The Necessary Supply
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
...in Englewood, a suburb of Chicago. He is young, handsome, and well dressed, and his eyes are blue and hypnotic — a trait, a physician once pointed out, which many murderers,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2: Cuckoldry
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...to Iowa, she becomes ill and dies. Holmes tells Ned he is sorry, but his eyes continue to look as calm as Lake Michigan. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13: Dreadful Things Done by Girls
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
...he is an educated and wealthy man. Even at 68, he is handsome, with blue eyes and a youthful face. He wins the nomination for the Democratic Party, and faces off... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12: Independence Day
...Minnie, to his hotel. Anna thinks that Holmes is a handsome man, with beautiful blue eyes, and knows that Minnie has chosen a good husband. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3: The Tenant
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
Thomas Ryves tells Geyer that he remembers a blue-eyed tenant who asked to borrow a shovel to dig a hole for burying potatoes. Geyer... (full context)