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The Devil in the White City

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

author  Eric Larson

type of work  Novel

genre  Non-fiction narrative; historical non-fiction; true crime; biography

language  English

date of first publication  October 16, 2002

publisher  Crown Publishing Group

narrator  The narration is in the first person, though it is split between fifteen different characters

point of view  The narrator speaks in third person omniscient, as he not only knows the characters’ feelings and thoughts, but also makes some analytic comments about their actions or thoughts. The narrator mainly alternates focus between the characters of Burnham, Holmes, Prendergast, and Geyer.

tone  Informational, analytical, ominous

tense  Past tense

setting (time)   1890-1895. Prologue and end of the epilogue are set in 1912.

setting (place)  Mostly Chicago. The prologue and end of the epilogue take place on the R.M.S. Olympic crossing the Atlantic. Part IV journeys between Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Toronto.

protagonist  Daniel Burnham

major conflict  Burnham struggles to design and lead the construction of the World’s Fair. He never meets Holmes, but there is also an overarching struggle between Burnham’s inherent goodness as the protagonist and Holmes’ inherent depravity as the antagonist.

climax  Patrick Prendergast assassinates Mayor Harrison.

themes  Motivation, Persistence, Pride

motifs  Fire, The Color Blue, Sickness

symbols  Weather, Dark and Light

foreshadowing After the first fire in the Cold Storage Building, Fire Chief Murphy says that something bad will happen again; Larson says in the beginning that the Pitezel children will be known throughout America; In the prologue, Larson includes several vague examples of events we will find out in the story, such as an assassination that will turn the Closing Ceremony into a funeral. He also mentions an initial loss that Burnham finds difficult to comprehend.