How is "The Devil and Tom Walker" a good example of American romanticism?

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amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A love of the paranormal or supernatural is also a key element in Romanticism. 

In "The Devil and Tom Walker" there are several events which qualify as unexplainable beyond a shadow of a doubt or strange and eery.  One of these is the legend of the hidden pirate treasure and the other is the old Indian fort nearby where Tom and his wife live.  Both of these factors hold the people's interest and intrigue their imaginations based on the lure of treasure and the strange and unfamiliar Indian ceremonies and burial grounds.

Another is the disappearance of his wife who was never seen or heard from again.  The only thing found to explain her whereabouts was her apron hanging from a tree containing a heart and liver.

Of course, the Devil is also a source of intrigue.  In this story both Tom and his wife act out of greed to "strike a bargain" with the Devil and toy with the supernatural in doing so.  Tom evidently has a change of heart and attempts to go back on his deal.  When the Devil calls to collect his soul, Tom is mysteriously swept away toward the Indian burial grounds on a striking black horse and is never heard from again. 


jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom Walker addresses a typical setting and theme of American Romanticism. As the young nation matured, the woods became symbolic of individualism, passionate self-discovery that moved past the book learning of now crowded cities. The woods changed from a threatening place of danger to life, limb and soul (just ask the folks in Salem). Man was left in the woods surrounded by nature to investigate his own being and moral makeup. Here Tom Walker faces his insatiable greed and does not learn his lesson.

A typical theme of American Romanticism would involve man’s weakness for easy wealth and cruelty to others. Slavery, spousal disharmony, greed and sloth are portrayed in this cautionary tale. Romanticism moved us into a new mode of thought, but obviously the traditional American work ethic was to be preserved.

chirya | Student

“The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving: Symbolism and the Black Comedy of Characters and American romanticism:

Greed was symbolized throughout the story. One of the early examples of this was of the skull that Tom discovered buried under the ground with a tomahawk in its skull. It showed the greed and destruction of the colonists that conquered the land and how they had warred with the Native Americans. Tom also displayed throughout the story his immense greed and selfishness. His humorous display of greed was especially shown when he went looking for his wife after she had been missing for days.... A subtle symbolism for greed occurred at the end of the story when Tom set his “green spectacles” on his bible to mark his place while he turned around to “drive some usurious bargain.” Green spectacles, the color of American notes and symbolic for greed, was used to enhance his sight. Tom was driven to make money for him and the devil, yet ironically he was reading the bible with those glasses, another example of the black humor displayed in the story. 
There were many symbolisms of hell, the devil, and sin throughout the story. When Old Scratch put his finger print on Tom’s forehead to prove who he is, Tom was unable to wash the print off, and it appeared as if it was burned into his skin. This was the mark of the devil as he resided in the flames of hell. After putting the fingerprint on Tom’s forehead, the devil gradually disappeared down into the ground, presumably to the depths of hell. The devil was also referred to in many ways as dark, black, dirty looking and he rode upon a black horse. The dark imagery was symbolic of the darkness of evil, hell, and sin. 
This regret may gain sympathy from the readers until the very end of the story where he refused to help a friend when he was about to foreclose on his mortgage. It was then that he cried out, in response to the man’s comment on his gained wealth from his misfortune, saying “The devil take me if I have made a farthing!” and he does. Tom was carried off by the devil and his black horse into the swamp and the forest was set ablaze. His wealth and belongings were gone. Within the story, with its dark humor and satire, the moral was maintained from Faust. The conclusion to the story states “Let all gripping money-brokers lay this story to heart.”

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jimmylana | Student

The story is basically about human greed and romanctism is about the basic elements of human nature



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The Devil and Tom Walker

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