Juxtaposition Of The Devil In The White City By Erik Larson
Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a nonfiction novel that spans the years surrounding the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as The World’s Columbian Exposition, recreates the lives of two real men, Daniel Burnham, the architect who builds the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair and H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who exploits the fair to find his victims. Daniel Burnham aims, without fail, to showcase an exposition that pleases the eye and mind. Larson uses imagery, personification, and juxtaposition to create an entertaining yet informative portrayal of the Chicago’s World Fair and its impact on America.Larson illustrates evocative imagery to entertain readers yet inform them of the impact that the Chicago’s World Fair had on America. As architects and landscape artists struggle to make their dreams into reality, Olmstead, the designer for the laying out of the grounds of the World’s Fair, ensured Burnham that there should be no limit on the flora presented throughout the exposition. He finds it imperative that “massive piles” (172) of ornate flowers such as “Catbriar, virgin’s bower, and brambles” (172) are included in the fair. Catbriars are green plants found in the tropics/subtropics, virgin bowers are green vines with white flowers found in the most common places such as wrapped around mailboxes, and bramble is a variety of different flowers that have rough and thorny features. Readers connect with these commonly seen flowers since it establishes a sense of familiarity within. The variety of flowers that Olmsted insists on having please the eye and nose, which is a great attribute in establishing an entertaining view of the fair.
Larson’s portrayal of these decorative flowers captures features of creativity and people are moved by their impact on the fair. One of the most notably substantial aspects of the fair is the Wooded Island. It is one feature that many people want to use for their own personal attraction. Olmsted wants to be more spontaneous, therefore “envision[ing] French Horn players” (276) playing “music [that drifts] across the waters” (276) and “Chinese lanterns” (276) that hang from “boats and bridges alike” (Larson 277). He also suggests there be “dancing masqueraders” (277). These proposals reach far and wide to foreign places intending to bring together a group of various cultures to one unique place, the exposition. This spurs a feeling of amusement inside readers as the thought of merging traditions fill their minds. The imagery Larson provides instantly makes the readers wish they had attended the fair to witness its extensive beauty. The beautifully orchestrated music, the pure white lights of the Chinese lanterns, and the majestic movements of masqueraders effortlessly create beautiful imagery the reader fantasizes about. Larson’s imagery throughout the novel informs the readers of the creativity and endurance put forth into the fair, and reveals the need to have a creative mindset to build beautiful cities, which had a heavy impact on the way people thought of buildings in America.Larsons figurative language entertains readers while informing them of the heavy impact that the fair had on Chicago citizens. The exposition not only serves as an amusement to visitors, but as something to look forward to during times of economic hardship. It portrayed their unwavering patriotism and pride due to their achievement especially since so many cities doubted their success. The fair being “Chicago[‘s] light to hold”(288) ignites a feeling of unity inside the readers since it’s during their “economic calamity” (Larson 288). The connotations of light are potentially viewed as uplifting, hope, or divinity. This brings attention to the heavy impact the exposition had as a positive distraction.
Since Chicago’s troubles range from Railroad and bank closings, riots, and suicides of businessmen, the success of the exposition proves far more substantial than expected. The exposition had an amazing influence on different architects across the country. It opened their eyes to amazing possibilities and contradicted their negative views on cities and how they should be portrayed. The heavy impact of the fair “awakened America to beauty”(376) and “laid the foundation” (376) for men like Frank Loyd Wright and Mudwig Mies. These two would design over 1,000 structures and become a pioneer of modernist architecture due to the inspiration the fair had on America. The expositions profound beauty and inspiration among other structures and artists create a feeling of awe inside the reader because of the strong effect it had on America’s thoughts on buildings. Larson’s use of figurative language portrays the impact the exposition had on America’s view on cities and gives the audience an entertaining and informal view.To entertain readers, Larson’s juxtaposition emphasizes and acknowledges the impact the fair had on America. Jackson Park was not always a beautiful landscape containing beautiful flowers and massive alluring buildings. The Wooded Island was one of the most important pieces of land that the exposition focused on. The mesmerizing imagery Burnham finds in the “white note in the dun-colored landscape” showcases the steps taken to make substantial progress in transforming this land, which strikes a feeling of eagerness inside the reader. Burnham notes the “cheerful contrast” (128) that the “lake horizon” (128) has to the “rugged and barren foreground.” (128) This causes the reader to consider the effort put into changing this once barren island into something beautiful. The mental and physical strain that the people who are contributing to the fair must undergo shows Chicago’s strength and compassion to those who doubted their efforts. As the end of the fair approaches, Americans dreaded the thought of this wonderful city not being able to reach the potential it possesses now, specifically Burnham.
Larson utilizes juxtaposition to emphasize the mournful closure of the fair. Burnham says the fair was ̈beautiful as a poet’s dream ̈ (333) which spurs a feeling of awe in the readers, yet it was ̈silent as a city of the dead ̈ (333) which arouses a feeling of emptiness. A poet is someone who portrays an aura of extensive creativity and beauty which aids the image of the fair, but the silence emphasizes the ̈city of the dead ̈ (333), immediately makes the reader realize that the significant beauty of the fair is ending. When these two phrases are put together, it can create an intense feeling of adoration due to the loss of something so amazing. The indication of these two differentiating phrases informs the reader that the ending of the fair had an emotionally distraught impact on Americans.Larson’s portrayal of the fair provides readers with an informative and entertaining view of the fair. His use of imagery, figurative language, and juxtaposition throughout the novel also acknowledges the heavy impacts of the fair, whether it was negative or positive.
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