In "The Devil and Tom Walker", when Tom's wife disappears, what does Tom do and say?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Devil and Tom Walker" reflects Washington Irving's, fascination with German folklore from which he gleaned several motifs that he wove around the Captain Kidd legend, making his tale uniquely American. In fact, this story is an indictment against American economics and policies.

Again as in "Rip van Winkle," Irving employs a termagant as the wife of the protagonist, whose voice is overheard by passers-by as she engages in "wordy warfare with her husband," and even blows to his face. So, when Old Scratch informs Tom of a fortune hidden by Captain Kidd, Tom is not inclined to tell his wife about the proposition of "the black man." However, because he is convinced that all he has heard and seen is not an illusion after hearing his wife's announcement that Absalom Crowninshield, the rich buccaneer has died, Tom, whose propensity is toward secretiveness with his wife, instead decides, instead to inform her of his recent experience. 

At length she determined to drive the bargain on her own account, and if she succeeded, to keep all the gain to herself....She was many hours absent. When she came back, she was reserved and sullen in her replies.

Tom's wife tells hims that she could not get Old Scratch to come to terms, so she must return with "a propitiatory offering" which she does not disclose. On the next evening she "set off again for the swamp," but she fails to return. Finally, after several days, Tom grows "anxious about the fate of his wife" and his property, so he ventures out to the Indian fort to find both her and the devil. 

As night begins to fall, Tom's attention is draw to a tree where "carrion crows" are clamoring. Looking up, he spots a bundle tied in a checkered apron. Tom is encouraged by its sight. believing that it contains the valuables from their home. Quickly Tom climbs the tree, retrieves the bundle, and discovers his wife's heart and liver inside. Thinking his wife has tried her usual techniques with Old Scratch and knowing that usually "a female scold is generally considered a match for the Evil" Tom finds evidence of a struggle around the base of the tree. 

He shrugged his shoulders and he looked at the signs of a fierce clapperclawing. "Egad," said he to himself. "Old Scratch must have had a tough time of it!"

With ironic humor, Irving writes that Tom consoles himself over the loss of his valuables with the loss of his wife; for, he is relieved to know she is gone. Moreover, he is somewhat grateful to the "black woodsman who had done him a kindness."

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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