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The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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What details and stylistic techniques help build the theme of "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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One of the details that is used as part of the opening of this short story to highlight the theme of greed is that of the setting that is created. Note how the words that are used by Irving to describe the setting match the characteristics of both Tom and his wife and the description that Irving has just given the reader of their personalities:

They lived in a forlorn looking house, that stood alone and had an air of starvation. A few straggling savin trees, emblems of sterility, grew near it; no smoke ever curled from its chimney; no traveller stopped at its door.

The choice of vocabulary is clearly meant to further reinforce the kind of character that Tom and his wife have: the house is "forlorn" and it has an "air of starvation." Even the trees are few in number and "straggling," and the narrator, rather heavy-handedly perhaps, highlights that they are meant to be seen as symbols of "sterility." The greed that dominates Tom and his wife stretches not only to their abode but also to the nature that surrounds them. This is a house of extreme want, and the miserly nature of Tom and his wife is shown to be so strong that it influences their immediate environment.

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