During the Gilded Age,Chicago hit a low point; the economy crashed, labor unions formed, andunemployment soared. The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was meant to be a sourceof light for those that could see only hardship, yet this fair brought nothingbut more suffering and death until its opening day. In Erik Larson’s the Devilin the White City (2003), he uses two seemingly unconnected characters tocreate an overall picture of Chicago during this time- one being an architectthat struggles to meet the deadline to open the fair on time and the otherbeing a serial killer who uses the fair to lure his victims into his hands. The literary criticism written by the author known onlyas Clare sheds light on both the successes and the faults of the nonfictionnovel. Clare applauds Larson’s use of suspense to “make the success of the fairfeel hard-earned” and differing viewpoints to “provide a stark contrast betweenthe glimmering ideal of The White City and the filthy reality of 1890’sChicago”. Throughout the novel, Larson switches back and forth from thearchitect’s viewpoint to the murderer’s viewpoint.
At times, this can causesome confusion, but ultimately shows the contrasting perspectives and motivesof each. For how long the fair took to construct, the actual event took placein a piteously small amount of the book. The rapid passage of time is reflectedin the characters themselves who “began mourning its inevitable passage”(Larson 289) before the fair had even ended, contributing to the sense that ithad barely happened. One of the main complaints that is brought up by Clare isthat the two viewpoints of the story never really connect. They state that thereader could “read each story independent of each other and get the same thingout of it”. This is true to a certain extent; however, these stories rely onbackground information that is more conveniently accessed in the format thatLarson employed.
Along with this, it is much easier to understand the purposeof the book by understanding these characters individually as well as together.One of the most inconvenient parts in this was the skipping back and forthbetween time periods. The progression is not chronological which makes readingthe different viewpoints awkward due to the reader having to keep track of whois saying what at what time and how that affects the next event. The Devil in the White City gives unique insight intowhat the world looked like in Chicago during the late 1800’s. The two maincharacters, although differing in lifestyle and mindset are both connected bythe world’s biggest fair at the time. The novel has faults, just like anyother, but it gives a true telling of these eccentric and macabre events.