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The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what is the relationship between Tom and his wife?

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The Devil and Tom Walker” is an 1824 short story written by Washington Irving and appearing in his Tales of a Traveller collection.

Tom and his wife have a combative and secretive relationship, driven mainly by their miserly personalities. Misers care only about attaining wealth and will often live unhealthy lives as they avoid spending money at all cost. We see this later in the narrative when Tom’s horses nearly starve to death even though Tom has more than enough money to feed them.

Tom and his wife live in a dilapidated house because they refuse to spend money on repairs. The couple constantly hide money from each other and constantly conspires to raid and steal the hidden money from their partner. These actions led to fights which turn physical and passersby can hear these altercations.

When Tom is offered the deal with the devil, he tells his wife he is having second thoughts, which shows he has some degree on conscience to weigh the positives and negatives. On the other hand, his wife’s greed is the clear driving force in her decision making as she immediately pressures him to accept the deal. Interestingly, this causes Tom to balk further because he does not want to share the money with his wife if he moves forward with the deal.

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Tom and his wife have a very dysfunctional relationship. Clearly, from the get go, we see that Tom's wife is extremely greedy (just as Tom is). She urges him to take the deal with the devil without any hesitation. Her interest is solely focused on herself and what she desires in the world—which is wealth.

When Tom is offered the deal with the devil to receive Kidd's treasure, he mulls it over and discusses it with his wife. Her immediate reaction is that he should take it, with no hesitation. She doesn't even care about the caveat that is offered—that Tom will be damned in hell for eternity as a result.

This shows how convoluted the couple's relationship is. Tom is obviously greedy and tempted by the deal from the devil, but his wife is just as quick to jump on it—caring absolutely nothing for Tom's well being or eternal soul. This goes to show that she doesn't care for Tom; she is just interested in the benefits her relationship with him brings her. It is unfortunate because it seems like Tom cares to some extent what her opinion is and chooses to share the offer with her, showing that he is not devoid of feeling for her.

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In the short story "The Devil and Tom Walker ," Tom Walker and his wife have a terrible, unhealthy relationship. Irving writes that Tom and his wife were a miserly couple, who would continually argue and physically fight. They would often conspire against each other and would cheat, lie, and steal from each other in their household. Whatever material goods Tom's wife attained, she would hide from her husband,...

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and he would continually attempt to discover her secret stash, which would lead to fierce conflicts between them. Their home was considered a "den of discord," and people walking by would often hear Tom's wife fighting with her husband. After Old Scratch offers Tom a proposition that will make him rich, Tom informs his wife, who selfishly tells her husband that he should sell his soul. The reason Tom did not initially accept the devil's terms was to spite his wife. After Tom's wife disappears, Tom shows no concern for her well-being and is actually glad that she is gone. Overall, Tom and his wife had an unhealthy relationship, which consisted of fighting, plotting, and arguing.

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Tom Walker and his wife behave very spitefully toward one another, and both are extremely greedy. Their arguments have turned physical, and the narrator makes no mention of love or caring between the two of them.

Tom's wife urges him to take the deal with the devil so that they will get Kidd's treasure.  She has no qualms about Tom spending eternity in Hell as a result. When Tom initially refuses, it is not because of the prospect of the devil owning his soul, but because he does not want to do as his wife wants--or share the fortune with her.

After Tom's wife disappears while trying to negotiate her own deal with the devil, Tom finds evidence of her murder:

"He looked and beheld a bundle tied in a check apron and hanging in the branches of the tree; with a great vulture perched hard by, as if keeping watch upon it. He leaped with joy, for he recognized his wife's apron, and supposed it to contain the household valuables. "Let us get hold of the property," said he, consolingly to himself, "and we will endeavor to do without the woman."

Tom is thrilled when he thinks he is going to get the valuables back--things his wife had tried to bribe the devil with--and thinks that it won't be very difficult to get along without her. He is unmoved by the sight of what is apparently her heart and liver wrapped in the apron.

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Tom and his delightful wife don't have a very good relationship; in fact, it is downright contentious and hateful.  In the second paragraph of the story, we learn that they are such money-grubbers that they are always trying to steal each other's money, and that they "conspired to cheat each other," and "many and fierce were the conflicts" that they had.  They fought constantly, pretty much hated each other, and the atmosphere in their house was describes as "wordy warfare" and a "den of discord."

Their contention plays a major role in the story after Tom is propositioned by the Devil.  His wife wants him to accept the terms--so, she basically tells him to sell his soul to satan.  But, simply because she wants him to, he refuses.  He wants to--yes, he's greedy and wants the money--but because his wife wants the money too, he refuses, just to keep her from sharing the wealth.  They fight even more about this, and she goes off to try to get the deal for herself.  When Tom discovers her dead, he "leaped for joy."  Not the most kind reaction to discovering your spouse has died.  It just goes to show how much they really cared for each other, huh?  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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What happens to Tom's wife in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

After hearing Tom's report of the deal he had been offered by the devil, whereby he could basically "sell his soul" in return for great wealth (the gold buried by Kidd the pirate), Tom's wife goes into the forest to make her own deal since Tom refuses to do so.  She is never heard from again.

Various reports in town offer differing theories for what happened to her: some say she lost her way and sank in the slough; some say she ran away with the household valuables; and others say she was misled by "a great black man, with an ax on his shoulder" into a quagmire, where her hat was later found.  Some said they had seen such a man late at night leaving the sawmp, "carrying a bundle tied in a check apron, with an air of surly triumph."

This last report seems to be confirmed by what Tom finds upon entering the forest to look for his lost wife - or rather, his lost property.  After much searching and calling of her name, his attention is drawn to some noisy crows in a cypress tree.  When he looks up, he sees "a bundle tied in a check apron," and he immediately recognizes his wife's apron.  However, when he takes it down and unties it, he does not find his household valuables; instead, he finds "nothing but a heart and liver tied up in it!"

The reader is left to assume that his wife has been killed - that her deal-making with the devil did not work out.  Unfortunately, Tom does not take heed of this warning.  Instead of feeling sorrow at his wife's demise, he feels liberated, and therefore goes on to make his own deal with the devil, happy that this time any wealth he gains will not have to be shared with his wife.  His ill-gotten wealth, however, only leads to a life of regret and a miserable end.

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," how does Tom's wife react to Tom's tale about the devil?

The story that Tom relates to his wife is about how he took a shortcut through the woods, and there encountered the Devil, who offered to give Tom a fortune in exchange for "certain conditions", which are not mentioned, but which apparently require some thought and consideration on Tom's part. Tom intends to think about this and then return to the Devil with his answer.

The narrative has some elements of a just-so story; things are exactly what they appear to be and explanations are shallow and matter-of-fact. Tom and his wife appear to be horrible people, and they are - there is no complexity to it. Thus, we may  not be surprised that Tom displays none of the emotion that we might imagine accompanies meeting the Devil, and neither does his wife when she hears Tom's story. Instead, she fixates on how to secure the treasure, and bullies Tom to accept the terms set forth, whatever they are.

Tom's wife eventually becomes fed up with Tom's hesitation, and determines to gain the treasure for herself. However, her bullying nature is not taken well by the Devil, who apparently kills her for attempting to pick a fight with him.

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what happens to Tom's wife?

Tom and his wife fight constantly; sometimes verbally, sometimes physically. They never seem to be able to agree on very much, and are at a point where they do contrary things simply to spite each other. Tom, upon meeting Old Scratch and bargaining for and old pirate treasure, becomes inclined to pass up the opportunity for no other reason than to anger his wife, who wants the bargain sealed and the treasure secured. 

Getting frustrated, Tom's wife attempts to make the bargain herself. The first time she goes into the swamp, Scratch sends her back. The second time, she leaves with an apron full of expensive silverware, as an offering.

The text makes clear that the fate of Tom's wife is uncertain, besides that she was never seen again after departing the home this second time.

However, there are several rumors, such as that she ran away to another county, or that she got lost and sank in the swamp. The rumor which the story gives the greatest credence, and the greatest detail, is that Tom goes looking for her (and the silverware), discovers evidence of a fight, and then fights a heart and liver tied up in his wife's apron, suggesting that Scratch killed and dismembered her. 

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," how are Tom and his wife alike?

I am sorry--even though this appears as one question in your book, it is clearly more than one and so I have had to edit it accordingly. It is clear that Tom and his wife are very suitable partners for each other. Note how they are introduced in the text as being similar in a number of key ways:

He had a wife as misery as himself: They were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other. Whatever the woman could lay hands on, she hid away; a hen could not cackle but she was on the alert to secure the new-laid egg. Her husband was continually prying about to detect her secret hoards, and many and fierce were the conflicts that took place about what ought to have been common property.

The defining characteristic of both of them seems to be their miserliness and their avaricious nature. Note the element of irony in this description - so misery are they that they even argue and fight with each other over their possessions, that ought to have been held in common.

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