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The clues regarding the identity of the stranger in Stephen Vincent Benes' well-known short story The Devil and Daniel Webster are certainly evident. The story's title itself clearly indicates that the devil will play a prominent role in Benes' story, and the initial introduction to the legend surrounding the man -- a prominent real-life figure of early 19th-century American history -- includes the following indication that the devil will appear and play a major role in the tale that follows:
". . .the biggest case he argued never got written down in the books, for he argued it against the devil, nip and tuck and no holds barred."
With that introduction, the identity of the stranger is certainly not difficult to fathom. Following this introduction of Webster, Benes transitions to the story of Jabenz Stone, described as the unluckiest farmer imaginable who, at the end of his emotional rope, declares, "I vow it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil And I would, too, for two cents!” Stone's unfortunate display of exasperation, of course, yields the inevitable result, as the next day "a soft-spoken, dark-dressed stranger drove up in a handsome buggy" to arrive at his doorstep. Then, to emphasize the point and further the sense that the devil has indeed arrived, Benes adds the following observation on the part of Stone regarding the appearance of this stranger:
"They were white teeth, and plentiful−some say they were filed to a point, but I wouldn't vouch for that. And he didn't like it when the dog took one look at the stranger and ran away howling, with his tail between his legs."
In short, the identity of this stranger is never in doubt. Benes never intended the stranger's identity to be a mystery; that was not the point. As the title and the introductory passages suggest, the devil will appear and play a major role in the story that follows. Daniel Webster, of course, was a prominent lawyer of some repute, and his reputation was that of a man of unquestioned integrity. To pit such a giant of American history against such a formidable opponent as Satan was the basis of Benes' story. That the stranger is the devil is never in doubt.
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