How does Washington Irving's use of imagery in "The Devil and Tom Walker" portray Tom Walker's character?
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An example of the imagery that Irving uses to explore Tom Walker's character is provided towards the beginning of the story, when the reader is first introduced to Tom Walker and his wife, and the setting where they live. It is clear from the actual description of Tom's marriage that what defines him above all else is greed, as the description of how he and his wife hide even a hen's egg from each other and try to keep it for themselves demonstrate. But note the image that is given of the house and the surroundings that is given and how this reinforces the impression of their characters:
They lived in a forlorn looking house, that stood alone and had an air of starvation. A few straggling savin trees, emblems of sterility, grew near it; no smoke ever curled from its chimney; no traveller stopped at its door. A miserable horse, whose ribs were as articulate as the bars of a gridiron, stalked about a field where a thin carpet of moss, scarcely covering the ragged beds of pudding stone, tantalized and balked his hunger; and sometimes he would lean his head over the fence, look piteously at the passer by, and seem to petition deliverance from this land of famine.
The trees are themselves identified as "emblems of sterility," which is symbolic of the kind of life Tom and his wife enjoy, and even the house is said to be "forlorn" and to have "an air of starvation." Note how hyperbole is employed in the description of the horse, whose "ribs were as articulate as the bars of a gridiron." The simile here conveys just how little it is fed. Clearly any man who would keep their horse in such a condition is incredibly cruel because the horse is obviously starving and very poorly treated by Tom. These images therefore reinforce Tom's central character flaw, which is greed.
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