1. In the note "Evils Imminent," Erik Larson writes "Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow" [xi]. What does the book reveal about "the ineluctable conflict between good and evil"? What is the essential difference between men like Daniel Burnham and Henry H. Holmes? Are they alike in any way?
Devil in the White City reveals that good and evil will inevitably exist, conflict, and eventually determine the future of the world. It demonstrates that oftentimes evil is portrayed as "good," and its deception can be lethal. Sometimes good intentions can lead to evil, or lead others astray. For example, even though Holmes was a murderer he appeared innocent and sweet. He helped those in need through paying off their debts and offering them jobs, food, housing, and even life insurance policies. He was so clever at the art of "pretending" that no one caught it, and several women were lured into his trap, and ended up dead. The essential difference between men like Burnham and Holmes is their sincerity: Holmes was a complete deception, while Burnham was completely genuine. Each men knew how to use clever tactics to achieve their "dreams," but Burnham used to these tactics to achieve greatness, and reaped a good reward. Holmes, on the other hand, used goodness to achieve a bitter end; he thought only of himself and not of the suffering his actions would eventually inflict on other people. In this way they are both alike and different.
2. In describing the collapse of the roof of Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, Larson writes "In a great blur of snow and silvery glass the building's roof—that marvel of late nineteenth-century hubris, enclosing the greatest volume of unobstructed space in history—collapsed to the floor below" [p. 196–97]. Was the entire Fair, in its extravagant size and cost, an exhibition of arrogance? Do such creative acts automatically engender a darker, destructive parallel?
The entire Fair, in its extravagant size and cost, was both an exhibition of arrogance and not. It took two years of construction, thousands of workers, hundreds of architects, millions of dollars, failures, and breakthroughs. It was the manifestation of the talent and strength of the US. If offered people from all over the world to see and experience new inventions, such as machinery and electricity, soda and artwork, the Ferris Wheel and gorgeous landscaping. It helped boost employment by offering millions of workers full-time jobs in building and constructing the fair. It showed America's tenacity and refusal to give up when times get hard. It was only arrogant in that its sole purpose was to top the exhibition in Paris and prove America's greatness to the rest of the planet. But because it was such a masterpiece America deserved to take some pride in their abilities and achievements. Such creative acts do not automatically engender a darker, destructive parallel in and of themselves. In the case of the fair, its creativity in itself was neither dark or destructive; it only served to mask a cereal-killer's darkness and destructiveness. Because people were so distracted by the fair's significance it kept them from dwelling on all of the crimes and disappearances that were occurring in Chicago. But this was only coincidence. Throughout the centuries there have been great artists who were not evil, such as DaVinci, Rembrandt, Bach, Mozart, and Shakespeare.