The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City


Erik Larson

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Themes and Colors
Sanity and Insanity Theme Icon
Modernity and Anonymity Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Devil in the White City, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Men and Women Theme Icon

One of the most important “links” between Holmes’s storyline in The Devil in the White City and Burnham’s storyline is the role of women in the lives of men. While it’s certainly true that Burnham himself has more love and respect for women than does Holmes, they are both products of their time and their culture: a culture that encourages men to be aggressive, and gives women few opportunities to assert themselves.

Larson notes at several points that the head designers of the World’s Fair are all male. While there are female architects who design buildings at the exhibition, they’re paid less and treated less seriously; indeed, when one of them has an argument with another organizer of the World’s Fair, Burnham has her sent to an asylum, where she falls into depression. The World’s Fair itself is successful in part because men are willing to pay money to disrespect women: they watch women “belly dance” and, according to the owner of a brothel at the time, hire prostitutes almost constantly.

Similarly, Holmes lives in a world where women, many of whom have just moved to Chicago, are weak and vulnerable, and must take jobs where they’re subservient to men. While many of Holmes’s victims stay in his building because they’re attracted to him, others are forced to stay because of their economic need. After Holmes impregnates Julia, for instance, he exerts total control over her due to the sexism and the stigma of pregnancy out of wedlock at the time.

In a sense, the real horror of The Devil in the White City is the city and culture that allows Holmes’s brutal murders to occur without any immediate repercussions — the same city and culture that allow tourists to patronize brothels. There is a frightening similarity between Holmes’s crimes and the World’s Fair’s success. Both involve treating women like mere objects. Rather than dismiss this information as history, readers should think about the close connection between voyeurism and crimes directed at women in their own societies.

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Men and Women ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Men and Women appears in each chapter of The Devil in the White City. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Men and Women Quotes in The Devil in the White City

Below you will find the important quotes in The Devil in the White City related to the theme of Men and Women.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

How easy it was to disappear. A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never seen a city but now hoped to make one of the biggest and toughest their home.

Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

There were rules about courtship. Although no one set them down on paper, every young woman knew them and knew instantly when they were being broken. Holmes broke them all … it frightened [Myrta], but she found quickly that she liked the heat and the risk.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Myrta Belknap
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

Though sexual liaisons were common, society tolerated them only as long as their details remained secret. Packinghouse princes ran off with parlormaids and bank presidents seduced typewriters; when necessary, their attorneys arranged quiet solo voyages to Europe to the surgical suites of discreet but capable doctors. A public pregnancy without marriage meant disgrace and destitution. Holmes possessed Julia now as fully as if she were an antebellum slave, and he reveled in his possession.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Julia Conner
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

As a crowd thundered, a man eased up beside a thin, pale woman with a bent neck. In the next instant Jane Addams realized her purse was gone. The great fair had begun.

Related Characters: Jane Addams
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Part 3, Chapter 14 Quotes

The panic came, as it always did. Holmes imagined Anna crumpled in a corner. If he chose, he could rush to the door, throw it open, hold her in his arms, and weep with her at the tragedy just barely averted. He could do it at the last minute, in the last few seconds. He could do that.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Anna Williams
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis: