How does the following sentence from “The Devil and Tom Walker” characterize Tom’s wife? “Her voice was often heard in wordy warfare with her husband; and his face sometimes showed signs that their conflicts were not confined to words.”

The quoted sentence characterizes Tom's wife as argumentative and physically abusive. She comes across as as cruel, violent, and extremely prone to conflict.

Expert Answers

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As we learn later in the story, Tom’s wife is the type of person who even the devil has a hard time dealing with.

The sentence we are dealing with characterizes Tom’s wife as an unkind, abusive and extremely difficult woman. The fact that there is often “wordy warfare” in their household tells us (by means of a great piece of alliteration, which draws our attention to the words) that Tom’s wife is stubborn and argumentative. While not saying that Tom is much better, his wife is a miserable and selfish person who thinks only of herself. The fact that Tom’s face often shows evidence of their conflicts characterizes Tom’s wife as a woman who is physically abusive and regularly uses her fists to make her point.

She is characterized as a woman who will fight with her husband about every possible thing. Just before this quote, we are told that

Tom’s wife was a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue and strong of arm.

Together with that information, learning that she tends to be both verbally and physically abusive characterizes Tom’s wife as a tyrant and somebody who gives at least as good as she gets.

Given the way Tom’s wife is characterized, it is unsurprising that Tom decides to reject the deal that the devil offers him because he has no reason to want to please his wife.

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