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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," in what ways is this story a satire?

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n6aball3r24 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 8, 2010 at 9:26 AM via web

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," in what ways is this story a satire?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 8, 2010 at 7:16 PM (Answer #1)

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It is important to realise that in this story, Irving is updating the traditional archetype concerning a man who makes a deal with the devil only to lose his soul in the end for the new America that he is a part of. A satire is a story that mocks some human folly, and as we read it becomes clear that Irving is mocking greed, stinginess, religious intolerance, spiritual hypocrisy and the inhumane treatment of others. He criticises the Puritans for their persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists, the Salem witch trials, and their practice of usury through the action in the novel. By far the clearest indication of this element of satire is the way that Irving makes it clear that the devil has been inextricably intertwined with these activities as is seen when the devil introduces himself to Tom:

"Since the red men have been exterminated by you white savages, I amuse myself by presiding at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists; I am the great patron and prompter of slave dealers, and the grand master of the Salem witches."

Note how the devil places himself at the centre of all of this despicable activities, and thus Irving makes it clear how he feels about them.

If you want to see how stinginess and greed are satirised you only need to look at how Tom and his wife are described in incredibly amusing terms that exaggerates their greed:

He had a wife as miserly as himself: They were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other. Whatever the woman could lay hands on, she hid away; a hen could not cackle but she was on the alert to secure the new-laid egg. Her husband was continually prying about to detect her secret hoards, and many and fierce were the conflicts that took place about what ought to have been common property.

We are presented with stereotypes representing an embodiment of greed - Tom and his wife's avaricious nature even leads to conflict between them as each tries to squirrel away money and possessions from the other.

Clearly, then, Irving uses this tale as a harsh comment on what he sees as the failings of America in his time, in particular criticising the hypocrisy and cruelty perpetrated by the Puritans against other groups and their sense of greed and miserliness.

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