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
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.