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The Devil in the White City

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Characters

H. H. Holmes

Characters H. H. Holmes

As the antagonist, Holmes demonstrates the destruction that can result from the human mind. He personifies evil. Above all, Holmes is motivated by possession and holding power over other people. Today, he would be diagnosed as a psychopath. He feels no sympathy and very little emotion, except for satisfaction when he exerts control over others, especially young, timid women. He experiences a sexual release when he exercises power over the last moments in a person’s life, when he can hear them panic or plead. For this reason, Holmes “plays” with women by seducing them over a long period of time—from courtship to marriage or pregnancy—before killing them.

Holmes is a master manipulator. His mimic of the human personality is so advanced that he fools both men and women, parents, police officers, creditors, and insurance companies. Like Burnham, he is very smart but performed mediocrely in school, then bounced around several jobs before settling in Chicago. Also like Burnham, Holmes is good-looking and exudes confidence and strength. He calculates every move in both business and personal relationships, even years ahead of time. He views people only as assets for himself, to be discarded once he is finished playing with and using them. Burnham and Holmes are surprisingly similar, but the biggest difference between these men is their motivations. Holmes uses his charisma and power for his own gains. Burnham uses his skills and power for Chicago and the legacy of architecture.

Holmes’ fatal flaw is his narcissism. He does not believe he will ever get caught until he is actually sentenced to death. He does illegal and risky things, even when not necessary. He has enough money to pay his debts, and yet tries to ward off creditors for as long as possible, which places him in legal danger. Even after murdering and attaining the possession he craves, he holds the life insurance scheme in his back pocket. He believes that he can use his charm to get himself out of anything. Ultimately, insurance fraud is his downfall.