The Devil and Tom Walker
By washington irving, the devil and tom walker essay questions.
In what sense did Tom Walker make a Faustian bargain?
"The Devil and Tom Walker" has all the makings of a traditional Faustian bargain tale. In the German legend, Faust, a scholar, makes a deal with the devil to sell his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge, the thing he desired most in the world. In this story, Tom Walker agrees to sell his soul to the devil and endure eternal damnation in exchange for a vast sum of wealth, the thing he desires most in the world. Just like Faust, Tom realizes the consequences of his actions far too late.
How does the story use imagery early on in the story to characterize Tom Walker and his wife?
At the beginning of the story, author Washington Irving paints a picture for readers full of rich detail. He describes a forlorn forest with sterile trees, a decrepit, unkept house, and emaciated, unhappy horses. The miserable setting immediately aids in characterizing the property's owners, Tom Walker and his wife, as undesirable, unpleasant people who readers will root against for the duration of the story. Using the qualities that he and his wife both have to describe the setting around them is an extra way to add to their characterization.
How do Tom Walker's morals decay over the course of the story?
Tom Walker is by no definition a moral person at the beginning of the story, but the morals he does have still show evidence of decay throughout the novel. He is hesitant to agree to the terms of Old Scratch's bargain, at first; here, he shows some restraint. He claims that not even the devil can turn him into a slave trader, which displays some form of a conscience. However, as he first claims that the loss of his wife was a good thing, then goes on to cheat hundreds of people out of their money, and finally tries to cover up for his actions by carrying around a bible, it becomes clear that Tom Walker has passed the point of no return.
Why is the title of the story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," significant?
The title reveals right away who the two primary characters in this story are going to be, so readers have no question who Old Scratch is the moment he makes his first appearance. The title adds a sense of foreboding and cautious anticipation, and even foreshadows interaction between these two figures. Above all, it places both characters directly next to each other almost as equals, which is fitting because at the end of the story, Tom succeeds in becoming as morally corrupt as Old Scratch himself. By the end of the story the two are indistinguishable, just as the title suggests.
How does the story condemn religious hypocrisy?
Early on in the story, Irving condemns the persecution of different groups on the grounds of religious intolerance. Later on in the story, however, he more explicitly denounces the hypocrisy present in so many religious figures. Old Scratch claims that Deacon Peabody is going to be damned unless he starts worrying about his own sins as much as he worries about the sins of others. At the end of the story Tom Walker is a religious zealot by day, but still continues his corrupt business practices. Irving clearly believes that, where religion is concerned, it's essential to practice what you preach.
What is the major lesson that readers are meant to learn from this story?
Readers are meant to come away from this story with a full understanding of the negative effects of greed. Tom Walker's major fault—though he has many—is that he is greedy, and his greed commences a snowball effect of unfortunate events until finally he is carried away to hell, just as Old Scratch promised. This story also teaches a lesson against materialism; Tom's obsession with material wealth, even after he has been given a huge amount of money, ultimately causes his downfall. Readers are meant to learn that there are more important things than money and possessions; at the end of the story all Tom's possessions vanish, emphasizing this point.
In what ways is this story a satire?
A satire is a piece of work that criticizes some element of human folly, and "The Devil and Tom Walker" does exactly that. The story satirizes societal greed and hypocrisy, particularly that of the Puritans, the religious group that settled the Charles Bay during the time period in which this story takes place. Though Tom Walker is definitely unlikable, he is also easily comparable to others who let greed, stinginess, and frugality blind them to the point where they (figuratively) have sold their souls.
Discuss the ways Old Scratch manipulates Tom Walker into agreeing to his deal.
At first it seems that the devil is being fairly straightforward with Tom, promising him treasure at a price and marking him with his fingerprint to ensure that the promise is genuine. Later on, though, it becomes clear that he is using clever manipulation tactics to get what he wants from Tom. He does not immediately tell him the terms of the deal; he merely hints at them. He does not allow Tom's wife to make the bargain, and instead disposes of her in order to lure Tom back to him. He acts reserved and indifferent when Tom returns to find him, and it is only with much apparent coaxing that he agrees to bargain once more with Tom. All of these tactics increase Tom's greed and desire for the treasure.
How does the framing of this story as a narration add to its effect on readers?
Because this story is presented as an old fireside tale told by an outside narrator, it enhances the idea that this is a folktale meant to teach readers something. It also creates an air of timelessness to this story; since it is said to have been passed down from generation to generation, it obviously has an enduring message meant to be heeded. At the end of the story, the narrator says that this tale has become a proverb and is the origin of the popular New England saying, "the devil and Tom Walker," which reminds readers that there is something to take away here.
Why is Tom Walker's final line, "The devil take me if I have made a farthing!", the one that seals his fate?
With this line, Tom Walker outright asks the devil to come and take him at last; obviously he has made more than his fair share of money off of the poor land-jobber to which this line is directed, so this is a blatant lie. This final lie confirms that Tom Walker's morals have decayed past the point of any redemption, and he has lost all traces of his humanity; because of this, his soul is completely sold to the devil and the bargain has been fulfilled. It is now time for Tom to face the eternal damnation that he himself agreed to, and, of course, that he certainly deserves.
The Devil and Tom Walker Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Devil and Tom Walker is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Which of the elements of gothic fiction does the following passage from Irving’s the devil and Tom Walker contain
Sorry, you will have to quote the particular passage that you mean.
Why does the narrator describe the string in such detail
The "string"? What chapter are you referring to?
who is the devil?
Old Scratch is the devil incarnate, manifested in the form of a tall black man who guards the old Indian fort. Old Scratch is extremely manipulative and cunning. He was hired to watch over Kidd's treasure, but he sneakily offers it up to Tom --...
Study Guide for The Devil and Tom Walker
The Devil and Tom Walker study guide contains a biography of Washington Irving, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
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Essays for The Devil and Tom Walker
The Devil and Tom Walker essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving.
- Washington Irving
- Puritans, the Devil, and American Literature
- The Use of Nature and Emotion in Romantic Literature: Readings from Lowell, Holmes, and Irving
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Theme of Greed in The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving
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Discussion of Greed in “The Devil and Tom Walker” and “The Mulatto” Essay
Introduction, the devil and tom walker. greed for money, works cited.
The Devil and Tom Walker and The Mulatto are two short stories that both contemplate the topic of human nature. Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker portray the devil as a figure that encourages moral decay and ethical corrosion. However, Victor Sejour’s The Mulatto is less mystical and transcendental and more focused on the ugly side of human nature and its transmission to other individuals through experience. While both Sejour and Irving achieved the goal of highlighting human flaws and weaknesses, the authors chose different strategies to portray those aspects. Nevertheless, both stories depict greed as a drive for immorality and corrupted behavior.
The Devil and Tom Walker depict a corrupted man named Tom Walker, who is eager to sell himself in exchange for the treasure that the devil has promised him. While the devil is the driving factor in the story, Tom Walker is initially flawed even before encountering corrupting evil. The author points out that even his surroundings were distorted, saying that ” the house and its inmates had altogether a bad name” (Irving 1).
This quote illustrates the intrinsic hostility and misery that Tom Walker shows through his behavior and way of life. When the devil disguises himself as a lumberjack (Old Scratch), he convinces Walker to sell his soul in return for the treasure. It is pointed out that “these he offered to place within Tom Walker’s reach” (Irving 2). While the devil is the source of Tom’s subsequent unhappiness and, presumably, death, he is not the initial perpetrator since the main character was already exuding negative traits. According to Lambie and Haugen, greed is a “dispositional motivational trait” (38). Greed drove Tom further, causing his immoral and corrupt behavior to flourish as Walker began giving in on his evil desires.
The Mulatto ’s main character is Georges, a child born from the nonconsensual relationship between the slave mother and the master. Georges never knew who his father was, learning the truth after he had already murdered him. Later, it is suggested that he commits suicide when “the body of the unfortunate Georges was found near Alfred’s body”(Sejour 15). Goerges, although having a family of his own, wanted revenge on his former master, who had ” like him, a wife and a son” (Sejour 12).
According to researchers, greed “might include a desire for sex, privilege, or control” (Lambie and Haugen 33). His father, Alfred, was greedy for control, which is suggested by how atrociously he treated Georges’s wife and mother. Georges, on the other hand, was greedy for revenge. He could not enjoy a happy life knowing that the person who wronged him still breathes. The greed for punishment and revenge corrupts his soul and drives him to commit an immoral crime that ultimately leads to his death. According to Schein and Gray, harm is an “intuitively perceived continuum” (1). In Gorges’s case, harm continued through generations, and it manifested as external and internal pain. Schein and Gray also point out that “specific “basic” emotions are linked to distinct moral foundations” (22). Greed for revenge, in this case, is linked to corrupted behavior and immoral actions that could be justified but ultimately causes the character to end his life in despair.
Both Irving and Sejour were able to depict greed as a force that leads to moral degradation. Greed is portrayed differently since Irving’s character is driven by money while Sejour’s is driven by revenge. However, the overpowering desire for something dark and ominous is present in both short stories. This desire leads to the death of both characters, which highlights its powerful nature that corrupts and damages. Both authors were able to externalize greed as a source of immorality and corrupted behavior by portraying characters that gave up on moral values in the name of their dark and sinister desires.
Irving, Washington. The Devil and Tom Walker . 1stBooks, 2000.
Lambie, Glenn W., and Jaimie Stickl Haugen. “Understanding Greed as a Unified Construct.” Personality and Individual Differences , vol. 141, 2019, pp. 31–39. Web.
Schein, Chelsea, and Kurt Gray. “The Theory of Dyadic Morality: Reinventing Moral Judgment by Redefining Harm.” Personality and Social Psychology Review , vol. 22, no. 1, 2017, pp. 32–70. Web.
Séjour Victor. The Jew of Seville . University of Illinois Press, 2006.
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IvyPanda. (2022, August 15). Discussion of Greed in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Mulatto". https://ivypanda.com/essays/discussion-of-greed-in-the-devil-and-tom-walker-and-the-mulatto/
"Discussion of Greed in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Mulatto"." IvyPanda , 15 Aug. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/discussion-of-greed-in-the-devil-and-tom-walker-and-the-mulatto/.
IvyPanda . (2022) 'Discussion of Greed in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Mulatto"'. 15 August.
IvyPanda . 2022. "Discussion of Greed in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Mulatto"." August 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/discussion-of-greed-in-the-devil-and-tom-walker-and-the-mulatto/.
1. IvyPanda . "Discussion of Greed in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Mulatto"." August 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/discussion-of-greed-in-the-devil-and-tom-walker-and-the-mulatto/.
IvyPanda . "Discussion of Greed in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Mulatto"." August 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/discussion-of-greed-in-the-devil-and-tom-walker-and-the-mulatto/.
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A Tale of Greed Used to Criticize Society in the 1820s
Washington Irving’s short story, “The Devil and Tom Walker” takes place around 1727 a couple miles outside of Boston. The story follows a “miserly fellow,” Tom Walker, and his wife, who live on a poor farm. The Devil meets Tom and offers him a deal where Tom would trade his soul to the Devil for hidden treasure which was left by a pirate. Tom does not accept the deal the first time and his wife resents him for doing so. His wife then disappears, and Tom is later offered the deal a second time, which he accepts. Tom lives the rest of his life hoarding his money and living in fear of damnation. In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” Irving develops a cautionary tale, by exploring and connecting themes of greed and regret to critique the people of his time.
One day Tom Walker finds himself on the opposite side of his neighborhood. To get back to his house, he decides to take a shortcut through a swamp. During his walk, he takes a break to rest due to the rough terrain and finds a skull with an Indian axe stuck in it. This skull is an example of foreshadowing as it represents Tom’s inevitable death. Also, the skull being found at the swamp, in a metaphorical sense, represents that anything that comes from the swamp, even Kidd the pirate’s treasure, brings death along with it.
As Tom is resting, the Devil appears from the swamp. The Devil proceeds to offer Tom a deal for Kidd’s treasure, but he rejects the offer. When his wife learns of the encounter, she decides to take all of their possessions and make a deal of her own with the Devil. Once she leaves, she is never seen again. When Tom goes to the swamp to search for his wife and possessions, all he finds is a heart and liver wrapped in his wife’s apron. This instance of Tom finding only his wife’s heart and liver in the apron is a metaphor how greed leads to negative consequences in one’s life. Here, Tom’s wife was greedy as she was looking to trade for Kidd’s gold, which would give her a lavish lifestyle for the rest of her days. The Devil left her heart and liver as a symbol, as Tom’s wife lived with no compassion, empathy, or any care for anyone other than her. As these character traits are normally associated with the heart, the Devil leaves her heart to symbolize that her actions and greed led to her to her death.
Both Tom Walker and his wife are described as “miserly” (1) people who constantly plan to cheat each other of their possessions and resources. When Tom discovers that his wife had died at the hands of the Devil, he treats the occurrence almost as a joke. When he finds his wife’s heart and liver in the apron, he immediately begins to think about his lost possessions. He also talks about how the Devil had done him a “kindness” in taking his wife. Tom’s thoughts on his wife’s death show traits in their relationship which reveal that the two did not actually love each other. Due to this time period, this must mean that their marriage was arranged by their parents. Here, Irving is saying that arranged marriages are not happy marriages, as the relationship is built on their parents’ thoughts, not Tom and his wife’s love for each other.
After his wife dies, Tom decides he finally wants to make the deal with the Devil. The Devil makes him wait but eventually the two meet again. As they are negotiating the terms of the deal, the Devil asks Tom to spend the money in his name by fitting out a slave ship. Even though Tom is acting out of extreme greed as he is prepared to sell his soul to the Devil for a fortune, Tom draws the line at using the money to transport slaves. This is a commentary on those who work in the slave trade during Irving’s time by saying that even the greediest of people of the earth understand that slavery is wrong.
Soon, the two agree on the deal where Tom would work as a usurer, someone who lends money, in order to drive merchants to bankruptcy, and ultimately the Devil. He lives the rest of his life in this practice but as he grows old, he becomes fearful of his fate. Tom soon begins going to church every chance he gets and praying every second of every day. Even though the practices are good, his intentions are not. He is only praying and going to church out of regret of the deal he struck with the Devil and in an attempt to save his soul from damnation. So, these actions are coming out of selfishness and not true belief and love for God. Here, Irving is criticizing those who practice false piety, meaning those who worship and act as though they are devout in the faith, but are evil in their practices outside of their faith.
In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” Washington Irving develops a cautionary tale, exploring and connecting themes of greed and regret to critique the people of his time. Throughout the story there are many instances and details of which hold a larger meaning in the real world. That is the beauty of Irving’s short story, the story has to be read multiple times in order to pick-up on these little details. The decisions Tom and his wife made throughout the story all had a meaning and purpose behind them as each decision was designed to criticize those in Irving’s time. Also, the story applies to today’s world. Maybe not exactly to today’s world, but the overall message of the story can be applied.
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“7 Reasons Church Members Don’t Come to Prayer Meetings.” ChuckLawless.Com , 16 July 2019, http://chucklawless.com/2019/07/7-reasons-church-members-dont-come-to-prayer-meetings/.
“Belief in Hell Linked with Sadness.” Universal Life Church Monastery , https://www.themonastery.org/blog/belief-in-hell-linked-with-sadness. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.
Belitz, Hina. “My Arranged Marriage Thrived after My Marriage for ‘Love’ Died.” The Guardian , 27 Aug. 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/27/my-arranged-marriage-thrived-after-my-marriage-for-love-died.
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Irving, Washington. “The Devil and Tom Walker.” Sakai, ENGL 105.091.FA20, posted by Paul Blom, July 31, 2020. Originally published in Tales of a Traveler . London: John Murray, 1824
“Is Greed Really That Good? Proving Gordon Gekko Wrong.” Qrius , 18 Oct. 2019, https://qrius.com/is-greed-really-that-good-proving-gordon-gekko-wrong/.
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A Collection Of Essays
The Devil and Tom Walker: Themes
Greed is one of the most important themes of “The Devil and Tom Walker” Tom is approached by Old Scratch and offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. Initially, Tom is so greedy that he declines because he would have to share the fortune with his wife. Eventually, however, Tom is duped by the false kindness of Old Scratch and blinded by his own greed. As Irving writes, Tom “was not a man to stick at trifles when money was in view.” Once established as a moneylender in Boston, Tom is described ironically as a “universal friend of the needy,” even though “In proportion to the distress of the applicant was the hardness of his terms.” Though he becomes wealthy, Tom still remains parsimonious: he refuses to furnish his mansion or feed his horses properly. Still, he denies his greed. When accused by a customer of taking advantage of his misfortune, Tom answers ‘ The devil take me if I have made a farthing!” Of course, immediately Old Scratch appears at the door. Irving’s moral is clear:”Such was the end of Tom Walker and his ill-gotten wealth. Let all griping money-brokers lay this story to heart.”
Hypocrisy is evident throughout “The Devil and Tom Walker.” When agreeing to the terms of the deal, Tom refuses to become a slave-trade because he claims to have a conscience. Yet has no problem becoming a moneylender who will profit by impoverishing others through unscrupulous business practices. In a further example of hypocrisy, Tom insists on keeping his deals with customers, which drive them to ruin, but then he conspires to cheat the devil on the terms of their own deal. Thus, his public display of religious fervor has nothing to do with his belief in God but is rather an attempt to save himself from hell. In his final moment of hypocrisy, Tom denies that he has made a penny from an “unlucky land-speculator for whom he had professed the greatest friendship.” When the devil comes knocking, Irving makes it clear that Tom’s hypocrisy has caught up with him.
Though Tom Walker is presented as an individual who has always been morally corrupt, the action of “The Devil and Tom Walker” presents how moral corruption breeds more moral corruption, escalating to the greatest corruption of all, a pact with the devil. Described at the beginning of the story as a “meagre, miserly fellow,” Tom’s “house and its inmates had altogether a bad name.” For one with few morals, becoming a corrupt moneylender presents no crises of character. In acquiring great wealth, Tom feels that the ends justify the means. Selling his soul to the devil presents a crisis to Tom only when he pauses to consider the afterlife. His conversion to religion, made specifically for the sake of his own personal interest rather than his faith in God, is a further act of moral corruption. Nevertheless, Tom cannot escape his fate, and Irving makes it clear the consequences of such “ill-gotten wealth.” Though the narrator refers to the tale as a “story,” he also states that “the truth of it is not to be doubted.”
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Washington Irving, Published by Gale, 1997.
- The Devil and Tom Walker: Literary Devices
- The Devil and Tom Walker: Characters
- The Devil and Tom Walker: Summary
- The Devil and Tom Walker: Setting
- The Devil and Tom Walker: Analysis
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The Devil and Tom Walker': Destructive Power of Greed
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