illustrated outline of a person's head with a red thumbprint on the forehead with an outline of the devil behind

The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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How is nature used in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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In "the Devil and Tom Walker," Washington Irving uses natural surroundings to convey both mood and meaning. When Tom Walker first encounters "Old Scratch," the black man wearing a red sash, he is in a swampy area, a shortcut, which turns out to be "an ill-chosen route."

"...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, where the trunks of pines and hemlocks lay half-drowned, half-rotting, looking like alligators sleeping in the mire." 

Nature here is portrayed as dangerous, ominous, evil, foreboding. Indeed, when Tom kicks a skull he's uncovered, he summons the Devil.

Later, Walker's wife goes out to meet the devil, for herself, to strike her own deal, but never returns. Tom goes out to find her, and to recover the apron full of things she'd taken from the house, silver spoons and other valuables. The following passage shows Irving surrounding employing nature to convey a strong emotional mood.

"...when the owls began to hoot and the bats to flit about, his attention was attracted by the clamor of carrion crows hovering about a cypress-tree. He looked up and beheld a bundle tied in a check apron and hanging in the branches of the tree, with a great vulture perched hard by..."

What Tom Walker finds is not valuables, but her heart and liver.

Despite these obvious warnings, greed gets the better of Tom Walker, and he makes his own deal with the devil.

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