How does the description of the woods help to create the mood of "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is clearly a very strong link between the woods that Tom Walker wanders through at the beginning of the story and the supernatural elements of evil and the mood of oppressive darkness and blackness. There are key elements in the description that combine to present the woods and the swamp as places of danger and evil, which of course prepares us for Tom's encounter with the Devil himself in ths place. Examine the following details:

The swamp was thickly grown with great gloomy pines and hemlocks, some of them ninety feet high; which made it dark at noonday, and a retreat for all the owls of the neighbourhood. It was full of pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses; where the green surface often betrayed the traveller into a gulf of black smothering mud; there were also dark and stagnant pools, the abodes of the tadpole, the bull-frog, and the water snake, and where trunks of pines and hemlocks lay half drowned, half rotting, looking like alligators, sleeping in the mire.

Note the use of descriptive adjectives such as "gloomy" and "stagnant." The reference to danger in the "black smothering mud" also presents this scene as being profoundly disturbing and bad, and also the mention of such creatures as water snakes and bull-frogs likewise indicates the scary and threatening mood created by such images. Lastly, the picture of the trunks of dead trees "looking like alligatiors, sleeping in the mire" is something that seals this mood, as alligators are of course dangerous and potentially deadly animals. There is therefore a massive sense of darkness, danger and destruction in the description of the woods we are given.

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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