The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson
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On Pages 11-14 of the novel Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, what historical reference is discussed word for word? What does that historical reference mean?

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There is a little problem with your question. I've been scouring these pages for something that might be described as "word for word" and there is nothing. "Word for word" signifies an exact accounting in relation to something else: word for word as reported in a news account; word for...

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There is a little problem with your question. I've been scouring these pages for something that might be described as "word for word" and there is nothing. "Word for word" signifies an exact accounting in relation to something else: word for word as reported in a news account; word for word as recorded in a court transcript; word for word as reported by a witness; word for word as spoken in a deposition by a significant participant. There is nothing in these pages that is a "word for word" account in relation to something else. What you do have are references that are in the words of the person reflecting on circumstances or events.

These are not allusions, these are references. An allusion differs from a reference in (1) that a person must know a great deal about a past great event or personage from history, literature, the Bible or mythology in order to understand an allusion--allusions rely upon a shared in-depth knowledge--(2) while anyone can understand a reference because the reference is given context, meaning, and often at least a brief description. One detailed reference is to the dangerous living conditions in Chicago during this era: pedestrians being run down by trains, vehicles falling off drawbridges, horses going wild and drawing carriages into crowds, fires daily that were reported by the news as having victims "roasted," and more. In this passage, Larson gives a detailed reference to the dangers of living in Chicago during this period.

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Another historical reference is found on page 11. A reference is made to Jane Addams' Hull House, a place where recently arriving European immigrants could live. The reference to her quote, “Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs," refers to the fact that times were changing in regards to the behaviors exhibited by young girls.

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There are numerous historical references in these pages.  Many of them can be found on page 12.  For example, on that page, Larson refers to Jack the Ripper, who was a serial killer in London who was never apprehended.  Larson also refers to Lizzie Borden, who was a young woman who was accused, but not convicted, of killing her parents with an axe in Massachusetts in 1892.  He also refers to Clarence Darrow advocating free love.  Darrow was an important attorney who is most famous for having represented John Scopes in the "Monkey Trial" in the 1920s.  In the late 1800s, he was advocating free love as an antidote to sexist attitudes of the time.

All of these are references to historical figures that are meant to give a flavor of the time in history in which the book is set.

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An historical reference is an allusion or discussion of something from history.  For example, it could be a person or event.  I think there can be more than one answer to this, but I refer you to the last sentence on page 12.

This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.

This was the World's Fair, or World's Columbian Exhibition, of 1893.  It was a significant event because it was the showcase of modern industrial society.  Many things we take for granted debuted.  Just to name a few: the zipper, the Ferris wheel and popcorn were introduced!

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