On Pages 44-46 of the novel The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, what historical reference is discussed?What does that historical reference mean?

3 Answers

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One thing that caught my attention on page 44 is the reference to the insane asylum.  In those days, they did not really understand mental illness.  Mudgett takes a job as a “keeper” at the Norristown Asylum.

“This,” he wrote, “was my first experience with insane persons, and so terrible was it that for years afterwards, even now sometimes, I see their faces in my sleep.” (p. 44)

It says he quit “within days” and you can imagine why.  There was no medication for mental illness then.  People were just locked up.  Even if you weren’t “insane” by any definition, spending time with this people would be hard on the nerves.  These were terrible places, where the caretakers really had no training and people were just housed there so they would not be in the public eye, and people could forget they existed.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would say that there is also something on page 45 that could be considered a historical reference.  That is found at the part where Larson is discussing the suburb of Englewood.  There, he talks about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  This is a historical reference because the fire was one of the most important events in the history of Chicago.  Among other things, the fire destroyed so much of the city and its surroundings that the city essentially had to (or was able to) reinvent itself from the ground up.  This reference, then, shows that Chicago was in some ways a very new city at the time this book was set.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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On pages 44-46, the industrialization of Chicago is being discussed. The narrator speaks about how the city was growing, quickly, upward. The city was rapidly expanding. Essentially, the narrator states that prosperity was everywhere.

The quote from the text which shows this is found on page 44.

Holmes understood that powerful forces were acting upon Chicago, causing a nearly miraculous expansion.