How does Washington Irving use nature in "The Devil and Tom Walker" to portray elements of American Romanticism?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As was mentioned in the previous post, the American Romantic authors were infatuated with America's natural landscape and captivated by its frontier. Many scholars believe that the American Romantics' view of nature was a reaction to the rationalist view in Europe during the Enlightenment which objectified people and nature. American Romantics prescribed to the belief that nature was a source of spiritual renewal which humans could draw inspiration from and appreciate.

As an American Romantic, Washington Irving incorporated elements of nature throughout his short story The Devil and Tom Walker to portray how humans and nature co-exist and also to celebrate the landscape of America. Irving begins the story with a description of where the treasure is buried by writing,

"On one side of this inlet is a beautiful dark grove; on the opposite side the land rises abruptly from the water's edge, into a high ridge on which grow a few scattered oaks of great age and immense size. Under one of these gigantic trees, according to old stories, there was a great amount of treasure buried by Kidd the pirate" (1).

Irving proceeds to illustrate elements of the spooky swamp where Tom meets Old Scratch by describing the "great gloomy pines and hemlocks" and "pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses." Irving's description of the dark, dangerous swamp area coincides with the presence of evil. When Tom is taken away by the Devil, Irving describes the loud thunderstorm and gusts of wind which enhance the atmosphere. In conclusion, American Romantics often combined elements of nature with spiritual forces which is exactly what Washington Irving does throughout the story. 

Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American Romantics acknowledged the wonders of nature, and unlike the rationalists and Puritans, they were more inspired by nature than by the fear of God. They were especially fascinated by the supernatural, or that outside the natural world, and with the basic elements of human nature.

In "The Devil and Tom Walker," by having Tom meet the devil in a wooded swamp, Irving was able to combine both loves of the American Romantics, nature and the supernatural. He uses imagery, such as "gloomy pines," "dark, stagnant pools," and "half-drowned, half-rotting," to describe the wooded swamp where the devil appeared to Tom. It is in nature where the "evil spirit" resides and where Tom's soul is tested. The reader is able to witness human nature through the supernatural in an outdoor setting which is the epitome of American Romanticism.

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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