Explain the symbolism of the following: Tom Walker’s house, the swamp, darkness, and the Bible buried under the mortgage.

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hadley818's profile pic

hadley818 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Tom Walker's house mirrors the decay of Tom and his wife's relationship. They are abusive to each other, lazy, and let their horses starve because of their own greed. The lifeless trees and forest surrounding the Walker house symbolize the fruitlessness of Tom and his wife's marriage--they have no children. This adds to the loneliness and isolation of their marriage.

The pirate's treasure that the devil offers Tom is supposedly buried in the swamp. In order to acquire the treasure buried in the swamp, Tom has to work for the devil. The swamp represents Tom's immoral services (becoming a usurer) for the devil.

The darkness adds to the ominous mood of the story and represents the evil and hypocrisy of people like Tom, his wife, and others in his New England town. Although Tom comes to believe he can outsmart the devil, he is never out of the darkness, which symbolizes the devil's influence.

At the end of the story, just before the devil comes for Tom, Tom is ready to foreclose on a man's house. Tom had spent his latter years being outwardly religious by going to church, praying loudly, and carrying a Bible. The Bible being under the foreclosed mortgage shows Tom's true nature--that he cares more about material wealth than about his fellow man. Tom's actions contradict the Biblical principles that he obviously knows nothing about. He cannot trick the devil with his outward display of religion.

gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Tom Walker's home: Tom's home is described as "forlorn looking." It is isolated and not inviting. Irving describes the "air of starvation" that surrounds the home. The cold appearance and miserable exterior symbolizes the unhealthy relationship between Tom and his wife. Similar to their home, Tom and his wife have a terrible, unhappy relationship. Their home symbolically represents their toxic relationship.

The swamp: This area is isolated, damp, and spooky. It is considered Old Scratch's territory and Tom chooses to enter the swamp because it is a shortcut home. The swamp is muddy and full of pits and quagmires. The swamp symbolizes the mess that you will get into when you decide to take shortcuts in life. Tom's shortcut leads him to a dingy place where he runs into the devil. Tom also decides to take a shortcut to becoming wealthy by selling his soul to the devil.

Darkness: Throughout the story, Irving uses dark imagery to set the mood. The devil is associated with darkness which creates an ominous atmosphere to the story. From the dark swamp to the devil's "black" appearance, Irving uses dark imagery to symbolize evil. Traditionally, good is associated with the color white, while evil is associated with the color black. The darkness also provides a feeling of impending evil and doom.

Bible buried under the mortgage: When the devil arrives to take Tom away, Irving writes that Tom's Bible was buried underneath the mortgage that he was about to foreclose. This symbolically represents the extent of Tom's greed and moral decay. The position of the mortgage illustrates that Tom values money over his faith.


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