The Devil and Tom Walker | Study Guide

Washington Irving

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The Devil and Tom Walker | Character Analysis


Tom Walker

Tom Walker is a poor man as well as a greedy one. He is unwilling to share with others anything that he can claim as his. He is also a brave man, unafraid to enter into places haunted by supernatural tales and to deal directly with the devil when he meets him. Tom is hesitant to sell his soul at first and especially unwilling to do it if it will make his wife (whom he hates) happy. He is only convinced to sell his soul after the devil has murdered his wife, and he feels some gratitude to Old Scratch. When making the deal, Tom stakes out his moral territory in his refusal to engage in the slave trade, which is too evil even for him. Tom readily agrees to usury, however, and builds riches for himself and the devil. Tom remains a proud but miserly person; he builds a fancy house but never finishes or furnishes it. Content with his riches and growing older, Tom begins to regret his deal with the devil. Fearing eternal damnation, he becomes zealously religious, but it is not enough. He cannot overcome his true nature and loses his patience and his new Christian morality as he calls for the devil to take him. Tom Walker disappears and all his worldly possessions turn to dust and ash.

The devil

The devil is a clever, unpredictable creature who delights in the sins and misfortunes of man, collecting souls for his domain while enriching his own holdings. The devil does not like to have his deals rejected; Tom's wife remarks that he is sulky when she sees him after Tom refused his deal. The devil seems displeased by the offering that Tom's wife made to him, particularly considering that it resulted in her death. The devil then plays on Tom's emotions, waiting until the delay has made him eager to make the deal. His stipulation that Tom should use the treasure in the devil's service shows the care with which the devil makes his dealings. Like Tom's self-interested loans, the devil makes deals that will further his own wealth and the number of sinning souls he can collect. The devil, finally, has no mercy. When Tom has called upon him, it does not matter that Tom has earned money for the devil. The devil takes him and all that he possesses.

Tom's wife

Tom's wife is a poor woman who is selfish with money and everything else she can acquire. She is angry, fights with her husband loudly and violently, and has no concern for his soul when she learns of the riches it might bring to their house. Tom's wife encourages him to take the devil's deal, and when he does not, she decides to seek out the devil to make the deal for her soul. She is frustrated by the devil's disinterest in her deal but plans to sweeten the deal with everything of value that she and Tom possess. Tom's wife disappears, and days later, all that remains of her is her heart and liver, tied up in her apron in the swamp.

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