The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 7 - A Hotel for the Fair

Summary

In 1891, H.H. Holmes begins construction on building renovations to create a hotel for the world's fair coming soon to Chicago. Again to avoid suspicion, Holmes designs the building and hires and fires several work crews. Having acquired debts he never intends to pay off, Holmes simply finds new companies more than willing to take his business. He also swindles a great uncle of Myrta's to loan him $2,500 under the guise of building a house for Myrta and him in Wilmette. He then forges her uncle's signature for a loan for another $2,500.

On one of his increasingly frequent visits to Wilmette, Holmes convinces a reluctant Belknap, Myrta's elderly uncle, to come to the city to see his building and the fair site. Belknap visits the city and stays for a night in Holmes's building, during which someone tries to get into his room during the evening hours. Belknap stays awake the entire night. Soon, Belknap discovers that Holmes has forged his name on another loan. Holmes maneuvers his way out of any wrongdoing by imploring Belknap's sympathy.

Holmes also pays special attention to the design of a new feature for his building: a kiln. One of Holmes's self-created companies — a glassworks operation — occupies a space on the first floor of his building. Holmes easily passes off the need for a kiln to the people who help him build and perfect the ultra-hot oven by saying the heat's essential to bending glass. The chapter leaves Holmes amid construction and enchanted by the entrance of two new beautiful women into his life.

Analysis

Holmes's character development in this chapter serves as a powerful contrast to that of Burnham's in the previous chapter. In Chapter 7, Burnham's determined to making the Chicago World's fair something never seen before, despite ongoing obstacles and challenges. Burnham's clearly committed to creating something positive for not only the city of Chicago but also the entire country. In this chapter, another man's determination becomes clearer. However, in contrast to Burnham, Holmes uses his determination to create something evil. Unlike Burnham, Holmes employs manipulation, deceit, fraud, and his eerie charm to get what he wants.

Stylistically, this chapter employs suspense building to keep the reader guessing. How will the Belknap family react when it discovers Holmes's deceit? The chapter's ending leaves in limbo the fate of the two new women who have entered Holmes's life.

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