The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Daniel Burnham travels to New York for the most important step in the construction of the World’s Fair. He and Root have already designed towers and various other buildings for the event, but they know that they need to hire a police force, doctors, a fire department, and a hospital. Still, the biggest challenge is choosing the proper architects for designing the buildings at the Fair. Burnham deliberately extends offers to five architects from outside Chicago: in Boston, New York, and Kansas. He does this to dispel the belief that Chicago is small and isolated from the rest of the world. Burnham’s five architects have already shown little interest in working with the Fair; in addition, news of the financial collapse of one of Chicago’s largest banks spells trouble for the Fair.
Burnham is only in charge of designing the WF because of Chicago’s city pride, but he shows little sign of being loyal to his city. Even if he wants to put Chicago on the map, he does so by bringing outsiders to Chicago, not by exporting Chicago to the rest of the country. While this could be seen as betrayal, as it is by Chicago’s architects (who are presumably jealous as well), it also shows that Burnham “thinks big” — his noting the collapse of Chicago’s bank is further proof of the forward, long-term thinking required to make the Fair a success.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Burnham meets with the five architects in New York; he tried to bring Olmsted, knowing that his reputation would help convince them, but Olmsted was unavailable. Together, the five architects are similar: some have attended school in Paris together, all have reputations for being intimidating, and all have worked for America’s wealthiest families. Burnham feels out of place. He never attended an elite university and doesn’t have Root or Olmsted to back him up, and his direct manner doesn’t impress his guests. The five architects raise concerns about competing with Paris and the Eiffel Tower, financing the Fair, and putting Chicago on the map. They’re unsure that they’ll be able to build anything in less than two years. One architect, Peabody, commits to the Fair; the others only say they’ll think about it, though they agree to travel to Chicago in January. Burnham tells Olmsted via telegram that the meeting went well, and that the architects want to meet him.
Burnham is a skillful politician, who tries — and fails — to convince the Eastern architects to join him by appealing to their respect for one of their own, Olmsted. Although Burnham feels uncomfortable around this group of elite, university-trained artists, he seems more ambitious and driven than any of them. Perhaps this suggests that ambition and optimism, as much as formal training at Harvard or Yale, are necessary for success in the field of Architecture, or in life in general. The distorted summary of the meeting Burnham telegrams Olmsted indicates that he also has to be a politician to people on his team, not just those on other teams.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Back in Chicago, Burnham is surprised to find that Chicago architectural firms feel betrayed that he went to New York for help. Burnham then asks five Chicago firms to design buildings for the Fair; of these five, only Adler & Sullivan refuses to cooperate.
The Chicago firms’ sense of betrayal may derive from an abstract sense of civic pride, but it’s more likely that they’re personally insulted. The fact that almost all of them agree to join Burnham after he asks them suggests that their ambitions outweigh any feelings of stubbornness.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
Root travels to New York, where he meets with Burnham’s five architects, but has little more luck — once again, they agree to visit Chicago in January, but show little enthusiasm.
The repetitive nature of Root’s journey — Burnham did the same thing only a few months ago — illustrates how agonizingly slow the process of building the Fair could be — agonizing, in particular, because of how little time Burnham and Root have to complete it.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
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