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 is the devil's signature in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

In "The Devil and Tom Walker," the devil's signature is his black fingerprint, which he burns into Tom's forehead. The mark seems to be visible to no one else and signifies the devil's possession of Tom's soul.

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Traveling through a swamp that most people avoid because of its association with tales of the devil, Tom Walker meets a soot-covered man with black hair sticking out in all directions. They talk, and Tom realizes that the man is the devil, also known as Old Scratch. We are told the two "haggle" over striking a bargain with each other. Tom wants money, and the devil wants Tom's soul. The text doesn't directly say that the devil is asking for Tom's soul: it alludes to it by saying that the bargain is "very hard" and that the terms can be "easily surmised" by the reader. Even though Tom is a hardened man who loves money, he is troubled enough by the bargain to want to think about it further.

When the conversation ends, Tom asks the devil how he can trust him. In return, the devil reaches over and puts his finger on Tom's forehead, calling this his signature. The devil then disappears, seeming to sink down into the earth.

When Tom reached home he found the black print of a finger burned, as it were, into his forehead, which nothing could obliterate.

Oddly, however, nobody else seems to be able to see this mark of the devil on Tom. It is also odd that the devil puts his mark on Tom when Tom has not yet agreed to his bargain. This indicates that the devil knows that a person like Tom will eventually come around and agree to his terms.

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