In Washington Irving's short story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," what characteristics does Mrs. Walker show?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If there is any characteristic that could be attributed to Tom Walker's wife in Washington Irving's short story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," it is avarice. Both Tom and his wife suffer from extraordinarily high levels of insatiable greed that, when combined with their mutual antipathy towards each other, makes for a very questionable marriage. Such is their respective degrees of avarice that Irving's unseen narrator notes early in the story that "they were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other." Tom's wife exhibits absolutely no redeeming qualities. Whatever it once was, their marriage has clearly devolved into a perpetual conflict between two small-minded and bitter personalities. That Tom is unable to resist sharing with his wife the content of his conversation with "Old Scratch," the devil, is more a testament to his weakness than to any sense that he hopes to revive their relationship. Indeed, the narrator points out, Tom has decided to reject the devil's offer as much as anything to spite his hateful spouse. It is his wife's response to Tom's information, however, that fully reveals her character. As described in the narrative, "[m]any and bitter were the quarrels they had on the subject, but the more she talked the more resolute was Tom not to be damned to please her."  The wife reacts to Tom's recalcitrance by seeking to make her own deal with the devil, a part of her ultimately unsuccessful maneuver including absconding with what little material wealth they owned to give to Old Scratch. When she fails to return home, Tom sets out to search for her, but not because he loves or misses her. He goes looking because he hopes to retrieve the missing valuables:

"He leaped with joy, for he recognized his wife's apron, and supposed it to contain the household valuables. 'Let us get hold of the property," said he, consolingly to himself, "and we will endeavor to do without the woman'."

This is a marriage made in Hell, with both partners equally avaricious and deserving of a fate worse than death. The one true characteristic of the wife, though, is avarice -- extreme, unrelenting greed.

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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