How does Goethe's variation of the Faust legend differ from that in Washington Irving's The Devil and Tom Walker? 

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Goethe's Faust Mephistopheles tempts Faust by appealing to his desire for knowledge and control of nature. Faust then falls prey to sensuous delights after Mephistopheles promises him a moment of strong experience and restores his youth. Faust falls in love with the young and beautiful Gretchen. Faust is lured by the devil with the promise of knowledge and later the promise of sensual pleasures. Faust does the devil's work by killing Gretchen's brother and mother and then striving to achieve earthly accomplishments. In the end Faust, who recognizes that God is a higher power than himself, is redeemed and welcomed into heaven.

Tom Walker, on the other hand, is lured into doing the devil's work by the promise of finding Captain Kidd's treasures. Instead of being tempted by sensuous delights or the promise of knowledge, Tom Walker is tempted by greed. He lives his life as a rapacious money lender. Eventually he tries to repent but, unlike Faust, he is never given the chance for redemption. Instead, after he dies, he is said to haunt the swamp where he first encountered the devil. While Faust undergoes a true redemption and accepts God, Tom Walker only undergoes the outward manifestations of redemption. He attends church, but he remains a miserly and self-interested moneylender. Therefore, in the end, while Faust flies to God and achieves true salvation, Tom Walker is forever claimed by the Devil.