In "The Devil and Tom Walker", what inferences can you make about how each of the following images supports characterization and mood? the trees and the swamp (lines 40-47) the hewn trees...

In "The Devil and Tom Walker", what inferences can you make about how each of the following images supports characterization and mood?

  • the trees and the swamp (lines 40-47)
  • the hewn trees (lines 96-102)
  • Tom's new house (lines 270-272)
  • Tom as a churchgoer (lines 279-289)
Expert Answers
caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Characterization can be defined as the process of "fleshing out" a character by giving details about its thoughts, behaviors, physical qualities, motivations, and other features which contribute to the illusion that the character is real.

Mood is the feeling or other emotional sense that the reader is intended to have based on certain details. 

  • The details describing the swamp are establishing a "gloomy" mood - the trees are specifically described as gloomy, and this is substantiated by the swamp being dark at midday. The swamp is also characterized as treacherous, in that is "betrays" the traveler into puddles of mud. 
  • The hewn trees are meant to represent individuals, and their presence may serve both to set the mood as one of foreboding (in that their fate is tied to that of the tree, or perhaps vice versa - the "magic" at work here is unclear) and the condition of the trees serves to characterize the people they represent - all variously scored by an axe, suggesting the impact of their sins, as well as trees that are rotting (corrupted) and fallen (dead).
  • Tom's new house characterizes him as a superficial braggart, yet simultaneously miserly - he somehow manages to combine some of the worst traits possible. This is probably intended to establish a mood of disgust - not only are we displeased by Tom's showboating, but by the blatant underlying selfishness of his motivations.
  • Tom's churchgoing phase further characterizes him as short-sighted and selfish. The mood here is probably one of annoyance - both at Tom's sudden conversion to a man of faith, and at his clear misunderstanding of how faith works, and that it is not about making a show of himself.
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Devil and Tom Walker" uses imagery in an effective way to help describe the characters in the story. He are some examples:

  • The description and imagery of the swamp is intended to convey a dark and frightening mood. The trees are so tall that they block out the sun, so the swamp is dark even in the day. It is pervaded with a rotting smell that conveys the idea that evil is afoot. This description helps convey the evil morals of the devil and the world into which Tom Walker has just strayed. The description also characterizes Tom, who is willing to sell his soul to the devil.
  • The hewn trees represent people who are morally corrupt. The imagery of the trees, which are vibrant on the outside but rotting on the inside, represents elite people in the community, such as Deacon Peabody, who are morally corrupt and about to be taken by the devil.
  • The description of the house Tom builds resembles his own character. The house is very ostentatious and full of designs that are intended to broadcast Tom's wealth, but Tom is so frugal and stingy that he has not finished the house. His house resembles his character, which is arrogant and stingy.
  • The description of Tom's churchgoing ways shows how hypocritical he is. The more he sins, the more vociferously he prays at church: a futile attempt to convince others that he is not morally corrupt. 
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The Devil and Tom Walker

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