The Devil in the White City | Study Guide

Erik Larson

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Course Hero. "The Devil in the White City Study Guide." May 17, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2018.


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The Devil in the White City | Epigraph | Summary



The author provides two quotations attributed to his two protagonists. The first quotation is from World's Fair architect Daniel Burnham, who advises, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." Burnham has big plans for the fair that will magically transport people into another world. Serial killer H.H. Holmes's words come from one of his confessions: "I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing." This quotation leaves no doubt about how readers ought to view this murderer: as the devil.


Larson inserts these two quotations at the beginning of his account to tie his two protagonists together. Larson sees both men as architects—one of good and one of evil. The quotations provide motivations for each one's actions. They are linked because some of Holmes's murders were committed during the fair after he turned his murder castle into the World's Fair Hotel. Holmes used the World's Fair as a cover to make it easier to lure young women and access his prey, but he killed both before and after the World's Fair. It is interesting that Holmes claims he couldn't overcome his nature, which raises the unanswered question of whether people are doomed by biology. In contrast Burnham executes a grand plan for the World's Fair because he wants to move people, and a modest plan would not have done so.

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