What is the archetype of "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The archetype for the "The Devil and Tom Walker" would be that of Faust. Washington's story describes the archetypal "deal with the devil" that ends in tragedy. 

It is usually the case that the benefits associated with a Faustian bargain are dwarfed by what is required in return. In the story, Tom Walker makes a deal with Old Scratch: in return for access to the pirate's treasure, he will use his newfound wealth in the Devil's service. 

For his part, Old Scratch demands that Tom engage in what is known as "black traffic" or the slave trade. Tom refuses vehemently but agrees to the Devil's next suggestion: that he works as a money-lender. In due time, Tom becomes extremely wealthy. He revels in his new wealth and position in society. However, he begins to have second thoughts about his bargain with Old Scratch. 

In his old age, Tom begins to feel apprehensive about the next life. So, he begins attending church regularly, and he becomes a dogmatic believer in God. As we learn, Tom's panicked rituals of contrition do little to secure his salvation. The Devil comes for him, sealing the Faustian bargain. So, the archetype for "The Devil and Tom Walker" is the story of Faust, where a "deal with the devil" ends in tragedy. 

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington's archetype was Faust, based on the play by Christopher Marlowe (and perhaps other sources of the Faust legend as well.)  Faust is the man who sells his soul to the devil in order to achieve wealth, but later greatly regrets his decision when he is forced to suffer the consequences.  In Irving's version, the  "narrator relates a story he has heard about a local man's dealings with the devil. The narrator never claims that the stories are true, only that they are widely believed.

According to local legend, a treasure is buried in a dark grove on an inlet outside of Boston."  Like his earlier incarnations, Walker too will come to regret his ill-fated bargain. 

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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