What is the main point or theme of the story "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The story "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving has a strongly religious theme concerning the nature of greed. In the beginning of the story, Tom Walker makes a Faustian bargain with the Devil, exchanging his soul for wealth. Both Tom and his wife are portrayed as greedy by nature. Rather than the Devil needing to actively seduce Tom and his wife, their greed makes them basically volunteer their souls to him, a plot element that suggest a more general point about what avarice and covetousness do to the human soul.

After Tom has sold his soul, he becomes a money lender. Despite his wealth, he is still cruel and avaricious, even refusing to feed his horses properly to save a few pennies. Although he outwardly attends church services and carries a Bible, inwardly, he lacks Christian charity. This introduces a second theme, that it is not, for Irving, the outward ceremonies that make someone a true Christian, but an inward spirit. When the Devil claims his soul, in a sense it is not so much that the Devil is purely an external force for evil, but rather that in his greed and cruelty Tom had fully given himself over to the Devil.


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