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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his tale "The Devil and Tom Walker," Washington Irving wryly narrates,

As Tom waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about those of the next.

Having made a pact with the Devil and been the cruelest of usurers under the directions of "Old Scratch," Tom begins to worry about the proverbial Day of Reckoning when he dies. So, he becomes "a violent churchgoer"; that is, he prays vociferously as though heaven can be taken by his very lung power. He is "rigid" in both religious and monetary matters; now a fundamentalist, he criticizes his neighbors, believing that every one of their sins which he exposes will "credit on his own side." In fanatical fashion, he castigates Quakers and Anabaptists, urging their persecution. Nevertheless, Tom still dreads payment to the Devil; so, he begins to carry a Bible with him at all times and assures that customers observe his reading when they come in for loans to his office.

Irving humorously includes this passage, also:

Some say that Tom grew a little crack-brained...and that fancying his end approaching, he had his horse newly shod, saddled, and bridled, and buried with his feet uppermost; because he supposed that at the last day the world would be turned upside down, in which case he should find his horse standing ready for mounting.

But, he discounts it as a "old wives' fable, narrating that this precaution of Tom's is superfluous because he calls out his own fate when, having lost "patience and piety," he tells a speculator that he has made too much money off him, "The Devil take me...if I have made a farthing!" At this moment a "black man ...holding a black horse" appears and says, "Tom, you're come for."

Rebecca Owens eNotes educator| Certified Educator

He becomes a "violent churchgoer." He also keeps a large Bible on his desk and carries a small one in his pocket. He becomes very judgmental, keeping track (almost like a ledger) of others' sins. He seems to think he can justify his sins if he can show that he is not as sinful as other people.

The problem with this plan is that even though he becomes religious, he never becomes righteous. He never changes his wicked behavior. The irony is that he could have gotten out of the deal if he had truly repented.

This is a Faustian tale. Dr. Faustus, by Marlowe, Faust, by Goethe, and many stories since, are all tales of people who make deals with the devil. In some of these tales, the person does get out of the deal, but that can only occur if the person TRULY repents. Goethe's Faust repents and goes to heaven. Dr. Faustus in Marlowe's version never does. Neither does Tom Walker.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom gets frightened in his old age, not wanting to lose his soul.  He begins to go to church and becomes devoutly religious, believing he can "chase the devil" from him; in essence, scare it away.  Irving lets us know that Tom is not successful, and when the devil takes Tom away, his fortune - and house - crumble.

melissa1106 | Student

Tom Walker tries to get out of his deal with the devil by becoming avidly involved with the church. He carries two bibles around with him to all places and prays regularly. He believes that getting closer to God will get him away form the devil. Although he becomes religious, he does not become a better person.

didi42741 | Student

Becoming a zealous church-goer

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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