The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City Part 3, Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is July 31, 1893, and the Retrenchment Committee reports to the World’s Fair’s Board of Directors that huge cuts are needed. It also asks that it be given the power to approve all expenditures at the WR, no matter how small. Board members are outraged at this request for more power, and threaten to resign should it be granted.
It’s lucky for Burnham that the Retrenchment Committee embarrasses itself — although there seems to be a consensus that Burnham has spent too much money on the WF, the Committee isn’t skillful at proposing a good alternative to his excesses—they respond to his dreams with dreary cutbacks. Thus, Burnham, shrewder and better at the politics of organizing the WF, wins out.
Themes
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
The Retrenchment Committee has been too harsh in its report — the World’s Fair has been a success, and acknowledged as such by newspapers across the country. Even in New York, a journalist writes that Chicago has done a better job of organizing the exposition than New York itself would have done. The final day of the World’s Fair is October 30, giving the Board three months to increase revenue.
Despite the importance of making money, the WF must be judged by other standards, which can’t be expressed financially at all. The prestige that the WF brings to Chicago and to America can’t be measured in dollars, but it’s enormously valuable, a fact which journalists across the country acknowledge.
Themes
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
The Board of Directors tries to convince railroads to lower their rates, and accuses them of being unpatriotic. Millet organizes boat races, swim meets, and exotic dances to boost attendance. He holds a Midway Ball on August 16, for which he invites belly dancers and other “Midway freaks.” Also in attendance is the famous “Citizen Train,” supposedly the model for Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. He is rumored to have psychic powers, and says that he has been invited to use his powers to increase attendance.
Millet knows that spectacle isn’t just a sight for its own sake; it’s also a good financial measure, guaranteed to attract more visitors and make the Fair more profitable in the long run. Millet also senses that the spectacles he provides for the Midway must be titillating, appealing to the sexual desires of his audiences, and anticipating the sexuality on display in 20th century film and television.
Themes
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
At the Ball, Train dances with Mexican ballerinas. Performers from all over the world, including Africa, Japan, Alaska, and the Amazon attend. Some, who usually wear almost no clothing, are dressed in skirts in the colors of the American flag. Sol Bloom maintains order in the ballroom.
Another important aspect of the Midway shows is their exoticism. America desires to assert its place in the world, and part of this assertion is presenting representatives of other parts of the world as mere entertainment for Americans. The dressing of foreign performers in the American flag is an apt symbol of the process by which America uses the Fair to present itself as a world leader.
Themes
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
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In August, Millet’s events help raise attendance to well over 100,000 visitors a day. At the same time, a major bank, Lazarus Silverman, fails. More businessmen commit suicide, and the unemployment rate grows. Union organizers like Samuel Gompers use the recession as an opportunity to call for drastic changes in the wealth of the United States. His rhetoric causes fear and panic in the wealthy — who feel that unions must be silenced at all costs.
The workers of the United States become increasingly radical and agitated as the economic health of the country declines. Because it must employ thousands of workers and work around the financial hardships of the recessions by attracting visitors, the WF is a “snapshot” of the socioeconomic state of the country in the late 19th century.
Themes
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon