In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what are some examples of Romanticism?ex...  nationalism & individualism

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

American Romanticism in literature was concerned with nature; the expansiveness of the American frontier offered seemingly endless possibilities, and its natural beauty was viewed with reverence. This reverence for nature is evident in the story's opening description of the area outside Boston: "a thickly wooded swamp," "a beautiful dark grove," and "oaks of great age and immense size." Romanticism was also concerned with history and legend, and the story of Kidd the pirate's buried treasure in this area neatly combines these two concerns. Many Romantics included supernatural elements in their work, and Irving did this, too, by introducing the devil into the narrative.

Individualism is seen in the behavior of both Tom Walker and his wife. Because the story is also a satire, the married couple are such extreme individualists that they don't work together. Each has a separate plan to make a deal with the devil to attain the treasure in exchange for their immortal soul. After Tom Walker becomes a usurer, he thinks only of his own profit, never considering the welfare of the desperate men who come to him for financial help. Individualism is not represented in a good light in Irving's story.

Nationalism, the belief in the superiority of one's nation, comes into play in "The Devil and Tom Walker" in the devil's recitation of the country's history. He reminds Tom that "the red men have been exterminated by you white savages." What is implicit in this remark is that the Native Americans' civilization was deemed inferior by the European immigrants who "settled" the new colonies.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Devil" certainly demonstrates the normal elements of American Romanticism (supernatural encounters, time spent in nature--especially the dark forest, and moral lessons).  In regards to nationalism, Irving's short story does provide the reader with insight into early Americana.  For example, Irving plays on some of the curious superstitions of the Puritans and other settlers (the devil as a being who inhabits the forest while trying to gather unsuspecting settlers into his fold), and he also satirizes the hellfire and brimstone view that many early Americans had of God and the devil.  In this sense, Irving (who was also widely read in Europe) allows his readers a glimpse into the beliefs, traditions, and superstitions of the people of the New World.

As far as the Romantic quality of Individualism goes, the author specifically portrays Tom as an individual--someone who makes his own path in life (albeit a suspect one) and who really does not seem to care what others think about him.  In general, the idea that individuals have to make personal decisions about their afterlife and lifestyles here on earth also fits in well with Romantic ideals.

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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