The Devil in the White City

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Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Weather

The weather is a nearly constant symbol of either destruction or progress, which parallels the lives of Burnham and Holmes. Storms destroy parts of the Fair that must be rebuilt multiple times over the course of construction. On a few key days—such as Dedication Day, Opening Day, the Fourth of July, and Chicago Day—the weather is perfect and symbolizes success. The weather tends to influence the attitudes of the characters. When the architects see Jackson Park for the first time, the harsh weather symbolizes their despair. When the weather is sunny, it symbolizes Burnham’s hope and optimism. Finally, the brutal winter following the Fair symbolizes the emotional pain of the Fair’s end and deterioration.

Dark and Light

Separate from the weather, the contrast between darkness and light symbolizes the moral difference between good and bad. Burnham and Root build skyscrapers and choose to put their office at the top of the Rookery. Here, light floods the office and they are above the dinginess of the city ground. This lightness symbolizes their essential goodness. They paint the city white, and the sun reflects off the buildings and becomes almost blinding. This light bathes the visitors in awe, and they come away from the Fair with memories of a good, safe, magical dream. Holmes’ hotel, on the other hand, is physically dark. He does not include windows and creates dark interior corridors, bringing about a general feeling of gloominess and despair. Holmes himself is a dark person with a distorted mind, and he symbolizes destruction and evil.