What is the symbolism of the Walkers' house, the swamp, darkness, and the Bible in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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1. The Walkers' house: Their house represents the barrenness in their marriage.  Tom and his wife barely tolerate each other; so their desolate house and land illustrate the lack of life in their relationship.  In fact, their grounds are so unwelcoming that travelers passing by needing a place to stay would rather walk on and risk a night without shelter than approach the Walker home.

2. The swamp: Irving begins his story with a description of the swamp which symbolizes Tom's moral morass resulting from his deal with the devil.  He so badly wants material goods like the pirate's treasure (rumored to be in the swamp) that he is willing to "wade" into the figuratively murky depths of being a usurer.

3. Darkness: Similar to Irving's other stories which satirize Puritan superstitions and beliefs about the devil, this story relies on darkness to cover the devil's deeds (namely his deal with Tom Walker).  Tom must enter into the darkness of the forest in order to bargain away his soul.

4. The Bible: After Tom has accumulated material wealth, he becomes religious when he realizes that the afterlife can't be too far away for him.  Ironically for him, when the devil sends his "black fellow" to pick up Tom for his meeting with destiny, Tom is about to foreclose on a poor man's home mortgage (my, how appropriate this story is for our economy today!).  When Tom recognizes who has shown up on his doorstep, he

"[shrinks] back, but too late. He had left his little bible at the bottom of his coat pocket, and his big bible on the desk buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose."

Irving uses this scene to demonstrate that Tom's work for the devil (squeezing as much money as he possibly could out of his fellowmen) has overshadowed any real concern that he once had for his soul's fate (hence, the Bible covered by the mortgage).

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