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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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what might be inferred about Tom's character from the fact that his big Bible is "buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose" when the devil takes him?

Expert Answers

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Let us carefully note the context of this quote and the way that this helps us to understand what it is precisely that Irving is saying through the location of Tom's Bible. As Tom so stridently declares that he has made no money from his usuring, the Devil comes to claim him, and we are given the following description:

Tom shrank back, but too late. He had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat pocket, and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose: Never was sinner taken more unawares.

There is tremendous symbolism in these lines. If we take the Bible as a symbol of our faith and relationship with God, Tom has forgotten his faith and relationship with God in exchange for pursuing greed and wealth alone, symbolised in the mortgage he is about to make money on. The ironic comment, "Never was sinner taken more unawares," is particularly true for Tom, as he is shown to have devoted all of his energies and efforts into selfishly accumulating temporary wealth rather than focusing on his eternal life.

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