What character traits does Tom Walker exemplify in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. Tom Walker is stingy.  He does not want to share anything with his wife or witness her taking pleasure in anything that he does not get to enjoy.  His house even represents this character trait, for Irving writes that when a passerby sees the barrenness of the Walker house, he keeps on walking, choosing to hazard starvation or lack of shelter over staying in such an unwelcoming place. Similarly, when he discovers that his wife as absconded with some of their household goods and later finds that she is dead, he is more concerned with getting back his missing items than his wife's fate.

2. Tom exemplifies the greediness and laziness.  He wants as many material goods as he can get in life, but he is unmotivated to work for them. His greediness and laziness cause him to make the deal with the devil because he is willing to take from others--even in their darkest hours--to make himself rich and he really doesn't have to do any manual labor to get rich because of his deal.

3. Tom is foolish.  His first instinct is to turn down the devil's offer.  But, after his wife chides him for not taking the deal, he foolishly enters into it. He realizes all along that the devil will come for him some day, but he naively tries to avoid that by practicing all sorts of weird superstitions.  In the end, nothing he can do saves him from fulfilling his end of the bargain with the devil.

poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Washington Irving's short story "The Devil and Tom Walker," the protagonist, Tom Walker, is described as a "meagre, miserly" fellow who conspires to cheat his wife—who is equally as meagre and miserly as he is! Together, they live in an austere home, where they regularly fight over material things. 

Tom is also described as not being "troubled with any fears"; his cavalier attitude and arrogance result in him coming face to face with the devil himself, Old Scratch, who offers him great wealth in exchange for his soul. 

Tom's contrary disposition causes him to decide that he won't sell his soul simply because his wife wants him to do so. Despite this, Tom winds up entering into the bargain, which further illuminates his greedvanity, and stinginess. After setting up shop as a usurer in town, Tom gets a decked out carriage pulled by "nearly starved" horses and running on "ungreased wheels." 

He eventually becomes as religiously zealous as he is rich, but even this cannot keep the devil from returning to collect what Tom owes.  

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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