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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What are some examples of characterization in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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The characterization in this story is a mixture of direct and indirect characterization. Indirect characterization occurs when the reader must deduce for himself or herself the characteristics of a character by observing that character's thought processes, behavior, speech, appearance, and style of communication with other characters. Direct characterization occurs when the narrator or another character explicitly tells readers about a character. This occurs in the second paragraph of the story when the narrator directly tells readers that Tom was "meager and miserly." We get a great bit of indirect characterization regarding Tom's greed when he decides that instead of taking the Devil's advice about lending at 2%, Tom says that he will lend at 4%. I also think that Tom is indirectly characterized as a determined individual. I think this has to be said because he is willing to make a deal with the devil in order to become wealthy. In Tom's mind, the end justifies the means. Additionally, we see Tom making a determined effort to avoid his final fate by becoming a "violent church-goer" that is always seen carrying a Bible and praying loudly.

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Washington Irving creates two very miserable characters in his short story, "The Devil and Tom Walker." Tom Walker is a "miserly" man who will do anything for money, even sell his soul to the devil, Old Scratch. Tom lives in a pitiful house that looks as unhappy as Tom's own life. Even his horse looks starved. Tom's wife is just as bad. She is as miserly as Tom and even thinks of ways to cheat her own husband by keeping "secret hoards" of things she has hidden away, such as eggs. As well, she has a foul temper, and she and Tom are regularly engaged in heated arguments. Just like Tom, she is willing to bargain with the devil. Both live poor, meager lives.

Also, both characters end up the worse for trying to make a deal with Old Scratch. Tom's wife fearlessly takes household items to bargain with the devil and is never seen again. Tom is more successful in his deal with the devil and does become wealthy because of it. However, at the end, the devil does get his soul.

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