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Modern masterpiece The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson presents a reader with a fabulous story concerning the building of the marvelous Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in 1893 that is situated in the city of Chicago, and Dr. H. H. Holmes, a sociopath murderer. However, this is a generalized plot of the book, and it is more interesting and exciting to interpret and study profoundly the canvas of Chicago mystery.
The dual essence of the book is presented in diverse ways and by means of different methods. For example, there are several embodiments of the Evil and the Good such as Burnham and Holmes’ life lines, double-faced Chicago image and others. More specifically, Holmes mirrors destruction and consequent chaos while Burnham is the direct embodiment of creative power and grandeur. The Evil and the Good co-exist and struggle within a mysterious and challenging Chicago site as it is inevitably appropriate for it. “It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root. This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history” (Larson, 2003). One of the most fascinating oppositions that have been created by the author demonstrates two dramatically different targets: one is exquisite, noble and beautiful, and is embodied by Columbian Exposition World’s Fair building, while the other is evil, hidden, dangerous, and is expressed by Holmes’s creation, namely a boarding house in the suburbs of Chicago.
I was amazed most of all by the way Larson described the evil essence and malicious nature of Holmes both as a person and as a criminal. The author paid much attention to meaningful details and transparent hints simultaneously describing the evidence of crime and diverse fraud activities Holmes experienced. The detailed description and precise manner of writing contribute to the whole impression after the reading. Larson did not intend to create a murderer of one clearly set type. Apparently, he was eager to create the most multifaceted and malicious character in the modern literature.
Holmes is a universal villain who is perfect for committing any kind of crime. For example, he is as good at theft as at insurance fraud. In addition, Holmes virtuously deceives different women. His charm and special technique of temptation provide perfect background for the whole criminal setting. Holmes’s victims feel secure and pleased in his overly tender and gentle company. There is the most significant aspect in the plexus of two plots, namely the grand and marvelous Fair circumstantially presents Holmes with numerous excellent opportunities for further crime development as many women are eager to visit it, and consequently they happen to appear in the web woven by Holmes.
One of unique traits of Larson’s masterpiece is the choice of the name for the antagonist. It is a miscellaneous name with a bundle of certain association of more positive and protagonist connotation than in The Devil in the White City. Holmes himself confesses the following: “‘I was born with the devil in me,’ [Holmes] wrote. ‘I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing’” (Larson, 2003).
The book is written by a skillful and talented writer. Larson not only excites and interests the reader but also triggers the imagination and provokes the reader’s own suggestions and conclusions before they reach the final page.
Thus, the book is written in a clear and at the same time multidimensional manner. The plots intervene with each other and therefore the masterpiece presents complete and exquisite plexus of actions and reactions.
- Larson, E. (2003). The devil in the white city: Murder, magic, madness, and the fair that changed America. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.