Characters And Rhetorical Strategies In The Devil In The White City

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” This fascinating quote comes from the famous Mark Twain, this quote can be also directly tied to the central argument in The Devil in The White City. The central argument in which is displayed all throughout the book is how Chicago is trying to be perceived as a beautiful city from the outside, but in reality, the city is consumed with hatred and darkness. For example, the setting of the novel is directly tied with the argument. The author, Erik Larson, used many other techniques to get the argument across. The story of the World’s Columbian Exposition is told through two people ‘s perspectives, which both characters have two completely different objectives, but they both are connected. Erik Larson also used many allusions to express the central argument throughout the text.

The setting implicitly has a huge role in the central argument. Throughout the text, Larson made it known that during the time Chicago was rich in architecture and also a pioneer in the building industry. At the time, the French startled everyone with their architecture advancements. The Eiffel Tower and the Exposition Universelle gave marvel to the world and no country wanted to be left behind. Which is where the idea of America’s exposition was developed. This is where the “light side” of the argument comes in. According to the text, it stated,” They were Chicago’s leading architecture: They had pioneered the erection of tall structures and designed the first building in the country to be called a skyscraper…..The tower not only assured the eternal frame of its designers, Alexandre Eiffel but as also offered graphic proof that France had edged out the United States for dominance in the realm of iron and steel…. In Paris, America had made a half-hearted effort to show off its artistic, industrial, and scientific talent…The nation needed an opportunity to top the French” (Larson 14,15). This piece of the text supports the claim of the argument because this is the first example of the “double motive”. Erik Larson distinctly describes how architects are almost like backbones to the new era of cities. As France is pulling away in the “race”, America wants to gain ground. So they declared for the Columbian Exposition, as the light side of the argument they claim it’s to celebrate Christopher Columbus, but in reality, the dark side of it is how America does not just want to be perceived as a lackluster country.

The structure of the novel is another way the claim of light versus dark is the direct central argument. For example, how Larson uses two characters, H. H. Holmes and Daniel Burnham. Daniel Burnham could be considered angel-like, the light side of the argument. However, for Holmes he is like the devil, he is even referenced in the title as the devil. Before the actual text starts, Larson leaves a page explaining what the reader is getting into. He states,” there lived two men…each embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized the rush of America…One was an architect, the builder of many of America’s most important structure, among them the Flatiron building in NY and the Union Station in Washington D.C.; the other was a murderer, on of the most prolific in history…Although the two never met, at least not formally, their fates were linked by a single, magical event… ”(Larson ix). The page in this title also implicitly hints towards the central argument. In the text Larson talks about how both characters are almost like polar opposites; Daniel Burnham as the good who is shaping the new America in this robust and Industrial Age. However, on the other side of the spectrum, it is the shadow of the “light”. As people come in from all over for opportunities in Chicago, especially for the Columbian Exposition, the darkness comes in too. As the city is being filled with life, it is also being taken away at the same time. They also describe how they are similar in look, according to Larson they both are handsome blue-eyed workers who are astonishing in their field of study. This also shows how no matter how much good you do, there is going to be just as much of a dark trail which is left behind.

The use of allusion was also used to implicitly state the central argument of the text. After promptly reading this novel, this book is littered with allusions and references to all events. Even some examples of foreshadowing; with a book that holds many important figures, it is bound to happen. Allusions help the reader go in-depth into the author’s mind, it also establishes a relationship with the reader. It makes the reader feel good about themselves because allusions tend to be a guess that the reader has some prior knowledge of what is going on in the text, setting, and mind of the story characters. For example, in the text, Larson stated,” Jack the Ripper’s five-murder spree in 1888 had defied explanation and captivated readers throughout America… But things were changing… The first of Jack’s murders occurred on August 31, 1888… he met a prostitute named Mary Kelly and accompanied her back to her rooms. He slashed her throat in a Van Gogh stroke that nearly removed her head from her spine…Every Chicago resident who could read devoured these reports from abroad, but none with quite so much intensity as Dr. H. H. Holmes” (Larson 12,70). The use of this allusion showed us our roots of society’s obsession with serial killers. From movies to books, murder intrigues anyone who is curious. Larson also sets up a metaphor in which he compares the knife stroke to one of the world’s greatest artists, this directly shows us what’s going on in Holmes’s head and his gruesome comparisons in everyday life. This also compliments the reader’s knowledge of the nineteenth century. However, this isn’t the only allusion Larson uses. On page 153, Laron stated, “The ranks included a carpenter and furniture-maker named Elias Disney, who in coming years would tell many stories about the construction of this magical realm beside the lake. His son Walt would take notice” (Larson 153). Larson used this Disney allusion for many reasons. One reason is that this allusion is one of the most well known and the most recognizable. The second is because of how it shows the central argument of good and evil. It is an abrupt change of how Larson used such a sinister allusion earlier, but now an allusion of innocence.

Larson use of technique and rhetorical strategies is so fascinating and intriguing. Like how stated earlier, Larson switches the mood and tone of the story on a dime. One moment it can be a family moment than it can abruptly change to a sociopathic mood. How Larson can compare something good in the world to something evil and make it stick. Also, how he explains in hints that everything good must have an evil counterpart. Throughout the text, Larson used many strategies to uphold the central argument of good versus evil or how there is always a negative shadow. From allusions, the setting/time period of the book, and finally how he structured the book through two characters who are complete opposites but talk about their journey good or bad. After reading and evaluating this story, it is safe to say that Larson’s The Devil in The White City is a crime classic.


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