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The Devil in the White City | Symbols


The White City

The World's Fair, known more formally as the World's Columbian Exposition, came to be called the White City because all the major pavilions were painted white, connecting them to the classical era of Greek and Roman architecture. The overall effect of the magnificently designed palaces, erected as part of a harmonious, neoclassical theme, was one of enchantment, especially when the buildings were illuminated. The White City, with its electric streetlights, clean restrooms, effective sanitation, purified water, and even daycare for children, symbolized the ideal city that Chicago hoped to become. Real-world Chicago at the time was plagued by poverty, overcrowding, and pollution in the poorer sections. By introducing visitors to the possibility of a clean, well-run metropolis with modern conveniences and life-improving inventions, the White City represented the possibility of a new kind of urban environment that would serve people's needs.

The Union Stock Yards

The Union Stockyards, a symbol of death, are a central terminus for livestock arriving from several states. Cattle, pigs, and sheep come to market for slaughter and then go to the meatpacking operations nearby to be packed for consumption. The stockyards are a major tourist attraction; people tour both the terminal and the slaughter operations and are fascinated, horrified, and sometimes delighted. People's willingness to watch these operations as entertainment symbolizes humans' primitive bloodthirstiness. In the book, Holmes brings Minnie and Nannie to see the stockyards, and their visit foreshadows their own demise; they will be slaughtered like innocent animals by the bloodthirsty Holmes.

The Murder Castle

The murder castle is the house that Holmes designs with the help of a whole army of workmen whom he hires and fires, mostly without paying them wages. His main purpose in turning over workers is to conceal the ultimate purpose of his construction: to facilitate murder. The murder castle has a kiln that can burn bodies, an airtight vault, gas jets for poisoning, and a basement with vats of quicklime. The building's construction is twisted and quirky, and it contains many secrets; it symbolizes Holmes and his twisted deeds even as it conceals them.

The Ferris Wheel

The Ferris Wheel symbolizes American creativity, ingenuity, tenacity, and can-do spirit. Americans want to outdo the French in mounting the World's Fair, but the Eiffel Tower, a marvelous feat of engineering and the tallest structure in the world at that time, is hard to top. Then George Ferris conceives the marvelous Ferris Wheel, which rises 324 feet in the air and propels 36 cars that each hold up to 60 people in a continuous, circular ride. Many think Ferris's structure will be impossible to build, but the Ferris Wheel is finally completed a few months after the fair opens. With this design, George Ferris seems to transcend the limits of what is physically possible.

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