What can you infer about the beliefs of the New Englanders based on Tom's religious devotion in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As is typical of Washington Irving's writing, "The Devil and Tom Walker" is a fictional sketch; and, as such, it has events and conditions that are reported on with a certain amount of skepticism. Religious fervor is one of the concepts that is viewed with some doubt. For instance, in the second paragraph, Irving's narrator Geoffrey Crayon observes,

About the year 1727, just at the time that earthquakes were prevalent in New England and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees....

Irving's story is a satire of the avarice of the Puritans and their religious hypocrisy. In one instance of such satire, Irving writes that after having made his deal with the Devil for his soul, Tom fears that the Devil may someday come to collect on this deal. So, Tom takes precautions:

That he might not be taken unawares,...he always carried a small Bible in his coat pocket. He had also a great folio Bible on his counting house desk, and would frequently be found reading it when people called on business; on such occasions he would lay his green spectacles in the book, to mark the place, while he turned round to drive some usurious bargain.

Further, satire comes as Geoffrey Canon narrates that the "quiet Christians who had been moving modestly and steadfastly traveling Zionward were struck with self-reproach" at seeing Walker outdoing them with his conversion.

As Tom Walker grows older, only then does he begin to worry about having bartered with his soul in his greed; therefore, he hypocritically carries with him a smaller Bible and his "big Bible" he displays prominently upon his desk. But, when "the black fellow" comes for Tom, he has left his little Bible in his coat pocket, and the big Bible underneath mortgage papers on which he was going to foreclose, another act demonstrative of Tom's avarice. "Away went Tom Walker dashing down the streets...."

Rather humorously, Irving uses his tale of Tom Walker as a criticism of the failings of America in his time, satirizing the hypocrisy and heartlessness of the Puritans toward other groups along with their avarice and miserliness.

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