In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what helps readers predict the figure that appears to Tom in the forest is the Devil?
In other words, what clues suggest Tom saw the Devil, while taking the short cut home?
The clues to the identity of the mysterious figure Tom meets at the old fort in the forest are found through a close reading of the story, beginning just before Tom sees him. The place Tom stops to rest is a "lonely, melancholy place"; people avoid it because it was believed that native tribes had once held rituals there and "made sacrifices to the evil spirit." This is an important clue that foreshadows the appearance of the Devil himself because it introduces the idea of him into the story and it shows that Tom is resting in a place where the Devil was once welcomed.
When the figure appears, Washington Irving describes him in terms that suggest he is "Old Scratch" himself. First of all, he appears suddenly, and Tom had not seen or heard him when he arrived. This suggests he has supernatural powers.
He is a dark figure, but his face is neither black or the color of copper, suggesting that he does not belong to any one race. (The Devil is a universal figure.) Instead, his skin is dark because it is "begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges." This clue suggests that the idea of Hell, a place often described in terms of fire.
Finally, the figure says that the forest belonged to him "long before one of your white-faced race put foot upon the soil." This suggests that he has been around for a long, long time, longer than the span of a human life.