What is Irving criticizing in The Devil and Tom Walker?

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mperez-mugg21 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington Irving is critical of a number of different things in "The Devil and Tom Walker" including religious hypocrisy and avarice. However, the most central target of his criticisms is the practice of usury or predatory lending. For example, when Tom Walker is selling his soul to the devil for pirate Kidd's treasure, the narrator remarks that the devil proposes "that he should turn usurer; the devil being extremely anxious for the increase of usurers, looking upon them as his peculiar people." This suggests that in Irving's eyes becoming a usurer is akin to doing the devil's work. Later the narrator recounts of Tom Walker's lending practices that, "He accumulated bonds and mortgages; gradually squeezed his customers closer and closer; and sent them at length, dry as a sponge from his door." This suggests that Irving has a very low view of the way in which many lenders abuse and ultimately discard their clients. Finally, as the story draws to a close Tom Walker's soul is claimed by the devil as he is in the act of refusing mercy to one of his clients. All of this indicates Irving's strong distaste for the practice of usury in no uncertain terms.  This criticism of predatory lending connects back to the larger thematic criticisms of avarice and hypocrisy in human nature.  This is evident when Tom Walker continued to engage in this terrible lending practice while attempting to save himself through becoming a devout and pious man. In the end, it becomes clear that one cannot behave in morally inconsistent and hypocritical ways and avoid the consequences of one's poor moral character. 

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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