Can you explain "The Devil and Tom Walker" in the simplest of terms?I read the story, and I don't understand it.

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cldbentley's profile pic

cldbentley | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Tom Walker, who was a greedy man, traded his soul to the Devil for pirate treasure.  Tom's wife, who believed herself a better bargainer than Tom, never returned after leaving to meet with the Devil.  When Tom went looking for his wife, he found only her apron with a heart and liver in it; afterward, Tom met with the Devil to finalize their arrangements.

In exchange for Kidd's treasure, the Devil accepted Tom's soul and his service as someone who gives high-interest loans.  Pleased with those terms, Tom embraced life as a usurer and became extremely wealthy.

 As Tom grew older, he became fearful of the Devil claiming what has rightfully his.  He began to attend church devotedly and take any other evasive steps he could think of. 

One afternoon, Tom undertook a business transaction that would cause the financial ruin one of his friends.  When the man begged for mercy, Tom began to deny having made any profit from the man's business.  Just then, the Devil knocked at the door and carried Tom away on a black horse.

Tom never returned and was rumored to have been seen being carried toward the swamp where he first met the Devil.  When Tom's matters were turned over to trustees, they found that all of his money and material possessions were worthless. Tom Walker's ghost still haunts the Indian fort where he met with the Devil.

jess-akcinar's profile pic

Jessica Akcinar | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Washington Irving's short story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," is story about greed and hypocrisy. In it, Tom Walker, a miser who lives in early 1700's New England, meets the devil in a wooded swamp and is offered a deal to trade his soul for wealth. Tom's wife, as miserly and greedy as he is, becomes aware of the deal and wants to take the devil up on his offer. However, the devil is only interested in working with Tom, and he kills the greedy woman. Tom, seeing the devil's act of violence as an act of kindness, agrees to the deal.

The terms of the contract include becoming a loan shark and a slave trader. Tom agrees to the first part but says his conscience will not allow him to deal in slavery, which shows his hypocrisy. 

Years pass and Tom becomes a very wealthy man. He preys on the misfortunes of the needy and ruins many people, including his own friends. Towards the end of his life, however, he begins to fear for his soul. He attends church regulary and carries a Bible in his pocket, but he continues his greedy ways, and thus, his downfall cannot be avoided. In the conclusion of the story, the devil arrives for Tom on a huge black horse, and the old man is never seen or heard from again.

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