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The Devil in the White City

  • Study Guide
Further Study

Study Questions

Further Study Study Questions

Why does Holmes manipulate people?

Throughout the novel, Holmes enjoys accumulating possession and power, and then exercising it over people. He establishes a pattern with women of hiring them, courting them, in some cases marrying them, and killing them. Holmes manipulates women into loving him so he can experience how much power he holds over them. When he kills Anna, he is sexually aroused as he listens to her suffocate and panic. In that moment, he has her life in his hands, and he likes mulling over his options. He especially enjoys deceiving and catching someone when they are vulnerable or afraid.

Later, Holmes moves around the Pitezel children, their mother and baby brother, and his wife, Georgiana. This is a different form of manipulation, as there is no immediate love or financial scheme. Holmes takes pleasure in knowing that Georgiana doesn’t know he has the children with him, and that Carrie Pitezel doesn’t know about either Georgiana or the children. By the time he brings Carrie and baby Wharton into the picture, they are longing for the other children, and vice versa. Holmes places them three blocks away just so he can have the personal satisfaction of watching them suffer and knowing that he holds the key to suffering. It is stimulating to him to cause their emotional suffocation before the children’s literal suffocation.

Why do you think that Olmsted thought of himself as not just a landscaper, but a landscape architect?

When Olmsted calls his career “landscape architecture,” he indicates that he thinks of his landscape in a way that is similar to architectural buildings. The difference between a lawn or park and a building is that the building will last well into the future. Landscaping is usually meant to make a natural space presentable for a short amount of time. However, Olmsted wants to create landscapes that endure. The classic example of this is Central Park in New York City, which Olmsted helped design. Larson says that when Olmsted designs a landscape, he usually envisions that it will come to true fruition after multiple decades. For this reason, Olmsted hates when he is forced to plant flowerbeds for Opening Day, because they are only meant to make the unfinished fairgrounds presentable. Afterward, he tears them out.

Why is Chicago the perfect city for Holmes to carry out his murders?

Holmes is drawn to the perverse. As much as Chicago wants the Fair to alter the perception other cities have of them, the city still has many disgusting and perverse elements. Brothels are plentiful, the people are morally lewd, and Larson describes the dreadful imagery on the streets due to the proliferation of industry and a poor sewage system. The stockyards produce a foul smell, and sometimes the streets run with blood. The city is rampant with disease. Holmes is drawn to and impressed by the dirty seediness of Chicago.

Chicago is also perfect for Holmes because there are many “fresh young things,” women who move to the big city alone to find work and independence. These are the women Holmes preys upon because he knows they are vulnerable. He also knows that the city has so much going on and so many people, that police forces do not have nearly enough time or experience to investigate all missing persons promptly. Larson even states that often people were not investigated at all unless they came from a family with money. In this atmosphere, Holmes knows he can get away with making people disappear, and nobody will figure it out quick enough.