Total picture of American life in the book.What is the total picture of late nineteenth-century America that emrges from The Devil in the White City?
An important aspect of the book is the continuing move away from farming and towards urban living. In previous eras, people tended to live on large farms, with multiple generations of the same family. Towns, as they were, were only places to aggregate money and resources, and the people living there were intermediaries between larger cultural centers (such as port cities, where a great deal of commerce could be performed in one place) and the communal farms. This meant that general society and culture were comfortable with isolation and separation. With the advent of larger cities such as Chicago, people started to live in a non-agricultural environment; they stopped thinking about society as resource-based, and instead as money-based. This led to overcrowding, and human life began to be seen as less-valuable, especially when the wealth gap began its major expansion.
I would say that the total picture that emerges is one of great inequality. There were many very rich people like the Pullmans and Armours that are mentioned in the book or like John D. Rockefeller who founded a great university near the site of the fair. There were technological marvels such as were shown at the fair. At the same time, however, there was a great deal of poverty. There were panics like the Panic of 1893. There were terrible strikes with lots of violence like the Pullman Strikes. This was a time of great wealth contrasted with abject poverty.
There is definitely equality, but there are other issues at work here. It was a time of great excitment and hope for America. Chicago was also very excited about the World's Fair. Yes, people were naive. Yet there was an opportunity for greatness that they saw.