The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving

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Table of Content

The Devil and Tom Walker, written by Washington Irving, is a prime illustration of romanticism in American literature. This book effectively represents the artistic movement of romanticism that arose during the 19th century, emphasizing individuality by showcasing emotions, love, and nature. Within the narrative, various characters including Tom, his wife, and even the devil confront their pasts while desiring transformation.

Nature is also a key element in this story, with various natural elements such as the tree containing the treasure, the sacred forest, and the enigmatic swamp all exhibiting human-like characteristics. Unlike authors of typical romantic stories who often concentrate solely on romantic love, this particular tale delves into a specific mentality instead. “The Devil and Tom Walker” was crafted during a time period and in an environment where Puritan principles promoting one’s dedication to God were undergoing change. Gradually, there arose an increasing hunger for wealth and individual benefit. Within the narrative, we observe Tom undergoing a similar transformation.

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Tom initially resists change, but ultimately succumbs to the avarice that led to his wife’s demise. The love for material possessions alters his perspective. Irving’s use of words like “sterility” and “famine” vividly portrays a love-deprived Tom. Within the recesses of his thoughts, Tom may have contemplated the consequences of striking a deal with the devil. Although he acknowledges his intention to betray the deal, Tom faces retribution when he becomes religious (Irving 3). Irving aims to demonstrate that wealth does not always bring happiness.

Tom’s wife, much like the devil, had a deep love for herself and a desire to achieve more in life. She was dissatisfied with her current reality and was unable to ignore the tempting situation that the devil presented to her, regardless of the consequences. Her infatuation and fantasies consumed her to the point where she navigated through the story in a trance-like state. Irving drew a comparison between her and the devil early on in the story, portraying them as a perfect match. Even in death, she managed to obtain what she desired – an escape from what she saw as a supernatural existence.

Tom and his wife should be content with their lives and avoid succumbing to temptation. However, they give in to the devil’s temptations (Irving 3). The characters and actions in “The Devil and Tom Walker” symbolize larger aspects of human nature. The character in the story represents evil and temptation. The murky woods with swamps, where Tom encounters the devil, symbolize his clouded conscience, easily swayed by greed and susceptible to temptation. Tom Walker, a dishonest lender, makes a deal with the devil and later pretends to be religious.

By portraying Tom’s actions as a reflection of religious hypocrisy, Irving highlights the possible consequences that await those who partake in such conduct (Irving 2). Consequently, Irving aims to advise against repeating the errors made by Tom and his spouse. This occurrence is not rare among many people, as demonstrated through the example of Michael Jackson, who famously exchanged his soul for celebrity status as a singer. Nevertheless, after growing disenchanted with this way of life, he immediately reneged on his agreement and sought guidance from a preacher he personally selected. Tragically, he was covertly assassinated the following day.

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The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving. (2017, Jan 31). Retrieved from

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