The Devil and Tom Walker | Study Guide

Washington Irving

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The Devil and Tom Walker | Quotes


The devil presided at the hiding of the money, and took it under his guardianship; ...


The beginning of the novel recounts how Kidd the pirate's treasure came to be buried and how the devil came to possess control over it. The devil was present and oversaw the burial of the money because the money was obtained in an immoral fashion and was thus "ill-gotten." Moreover, because the pirate died after he stole and buried the treasure, the pirate retains no claim on it. The narrator shows with a few sentences that the devil now possesses all control of the treasure.


There lived near this place a meagre, miserly fellow, of the name of Tom Walker.


The narrator's introduction to Tom Walker explains carefully what kind of a person he is. He is poor, without any ability to improve his situation, and he is "miserly." Both Tom Walker and his wife are described as greedy people who do not wish to share what little they have with anyone else. From the beginning of the narrative, the character of Tom represents the theme of greed and the negative effects it has on people.


The lonely wayfarer ... hurried on his way, rejoicing, if a bachelor, in his celibacy.


As the narrator describes the relationship between Tom Walker and his wife, he explains that the two of them fought often and loudly. They fight so loudly that any person passing by the house tries to avoid it, and if he is unmarried, is thankful for that fact. Tom and his wife have a terrible relationship. The narrator clearly conveys the fact that, even though their marriage legally joins their property, Tom and his wife each keep their own possessions from one another.


Tom Walker, however, was not a man to be troubled with any fears of the kind.


When Tom Walker crosses through the swamp, he stops for a while to rest at an old Indian fort. Tom knows superstitious and mythical tales of what Native Americans once did there, but he is not afraid. He sits to rest just as calmly as if he were in a pleasant meadow. Tom's actions reveal him to be a man comfortable in situations and places in which most people would not be comfortable. His comfort here foreshadows his ease in dealing with both the supernatural and the evil, for the tales about Native American incantations and sacrifices portrayed them as evil.


Look yonder, and see how Deacon Peabody is faring.

The devil

When the devil asks Tom Walker what he is doing on the devil's property, Tom responds that it cannot be the devil's ground because it belongs to a man named Duncan Peabody. The devil replies that the man will soon be condemned to hell and tells Tom to see how Duncan is faring. The devil points to a tree that is beautiful on the outside but "rotten at the core"; it is inscribed with Duncan Peabody's name. The devil has a whole forest of these trees that reflect the state of many men. These trees help to convince Tom that the man he meets in the woods is truly the devil. Tom sees a recently cut down tree with the name of Crowninshield and, upon returning home, finds an announcement of the man's death in the news.


If I mistake not ... you are he commonly called Old Scratch.

Tom Walker

When Tom Walker first meets the devil, he is uncertain of the man's identity. The devil appears as a man covered in black soot, dressed in "rude, half-Indian garb." After a short discussion, during which Tom learns that the stranger possesses trees that represent the fates of men, Tom boldly asks the stranger who he is. The devil responds that he has many names, and Tom acknowledges that he knows the devil by the nickname "Old Scratch."


However Tom might have felt ... he was determined not to do so to oblige his wife.


When the devil first presents his deal of Kidd the pirate's treasure for Tom's soul, Tom is hesitant to take it. He goes home and tells his wife about it, and the greedy woman does everything she can to try to get Tom to take the deal. Even if Tom had wanted to take the devil's deal, the thought that it would make his wife happy holds him back.


It is one of those facts which have become confounded by a variety of historians.


When Tom refuses to sell his soul to the devil, his wife decides to accept the deal for herself and ventures out to meet the devil. When she fails to come home, Tom begins to worry for her safety. The narrator claims that the true story of what happened to the woman is unknown because of "so many pretending to know." This comment, alongside the reference to her disappearance being a "fact" that has become confused by "historians," heightens the realism of the story. Washington Irving uses these devices, as well as a real historical setting, to make the story more credible and its moral instruction more pressing.


Let us get hold of the property ... and we will endeavor to do without the woman.

Tom Walker

When Tom Walker sees his wife's apron hanging from a branch, he seems certain that his wife is lost. His response is not despair—he had a terrible relationship with her anyway—but he tries to see if he can recover the valuable household items she took in order to try to buy the devil's favor. His perspective elaborates upon the theme of his greed: he looks for the financial advantage even when he is faced with his wife's death.


The devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave trader.


Tom Walker is not a moral man, but his depravity has limits. Even Tom Walker, who will sell his soul to the devil, cannot be tempted into a life of slave trading, no matter its profits. The devil sets conditions on Tom's use of the treasure, saying that the money must be used in immoral ways that serve the interest of the devil. The slave trade is his first suggestion, but Tom flatly refuses. With this passage, Washington Irving sets slave trading on a level that is far below the evils of greed, even the kind of all-encompassing greed that Tom Walker possesses.


You are the usurer for my money!

The devil

Tom rejects the devil's proposal that he should enter into the slave trade, but the devil's second suggestion is much more acceptable to him. The devil suggests usury—the practice of lending money at extremely high interest rates and to people who are unlikely to be able to repay the loan—because he feels a particular affection for usurers. Lending money with any interest rate is considered a sin in the Christian Bible, so those who practiced it as a profession were committed to a life of sin by profiting from others' misfortunes. Tom Walker claims that this type of sin is just his style.


In proportion to the distress of the applicant was the hardness of his terms.


Tom proves to be a harsh and merciless usurer. Whereas it would be kind to lower interest rates for those most in need of the loan, Tom raises interest rates and hardens payment terms for the most unfortunate. His actions please the devil because his investments earn more when the person is unable to repay the loan or its high interest. He can then foreclose—take control of—whatever property or asset was pledged as collateral for the loan. This increases the fortunes of Tom and, by extension, the devil, as well as negatively impacting the lives of those forced out of their homes and, perhaps, into lives of sin from which the devil may profit.


In a word, Tom's zeal became as notorious as his riches.


Over time, as Tom enjoys the pleasant life he has won through his deal with the devil, he begins to worry about what will happen to him after his death. He decides to try to negate the deal with the devil by attending church regularly. He becomes avidly involved in whatever seems like the most Christian and pious thing to do. He prays loudly, calls for persecution of people who do not follow church doctrine, and generally tries to do anything he can to avoid going to hell in the afterlife. His religious "zeal" is noticed by others as he tries to offset all his riches with an equal amount of piety, hoping that he will be more pious than evil and will obtain a position in heaven after death.


The devil take me ... if I have made a farthing!

Tom Walker

When dealing with a land-jobber—a person who makes a living buying and selling land—who is unable to pay his loan, Tom Walker loses his patience and exclaims the words above. The common exclamation, "The devil take me," asks the devil to condemn the person if he deserves it. In other words, Tom Walker asked the devil to condemn him if he has made any money off of the land-jobber. Tom has clearly made money off of the man's loan because Tom has charged interest and will foreclose on the property, so the devil comes for Tom Walker immediately. It is not clear why Tom exclaims these words when he knows them to be false and condemning. Perhaps Tom is lying to the man in order to preserve the impression that he is a kind moneylender, but he chooses a dangerous lie. Maybe Tom is so involved in his deceptive lending practices that he momentarily believes his own lie.


Let all the griping money-brokers lay this story to heart.


After the devil takes Tom, all his possessions are turned to dust and ash. None of his worldly possessions continue after his death; he exchanged eternal damnation in hell for worldly riches that lasted only as long as he lived. The narrator encourages all "griping money-brokers" to believe this story and understand the immoral character of their profession. The tale is a moralizing parable for anyone seeking to earn money by usury or any immoral means. The immoral actions that make them rich in this life will condemn their souls in the next.

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