What romantic elements are used in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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In broadest strokes, Romantic literature presents the world as we would like it to be, while realistic literature presents the world as it is.

Most people wish for the world to be more than a dull, prosaic, mechanistic place. Irving's story leans in heavily to the human desire for the...

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In broadest strokes, Romantic literature presents the world as we would like it to be, while realistic literature presents the world as it is.

Most people wish for the world to be more than a dull, prosaic, mechanistic place. Irving's story leans in heavily to the human desire for the fantastical, the primitive, and the supernatural. Readers are drawn into the story by such images as:

a cloven skull, with an Indian tomahawk buried deep in it, lay before him.

This mysterious skull leads Tom to an encounter with the devil himself. Folklore was very much a part of Romantic literature, and Irving spends the rest of the story weaving in local folktales to tell a moral fable of Tom's history after he makes his deal with the devil.

Romantic literature also depicted the civilized world as corrupted and far from God, and the story plays on that theme. Wealth is not admired but despised. We hear, for example, of

a mighty rich man ... who made a vulgar display of wealth.

The Romantics preferred the simplicity of nature to what they saw as the garish evils of civilization.

Tom Walker's deal with the devil plants him firmly in the heart of a corrupt civilization that cheats and hurts the little people. Tom charges unreasonable rates of interest to desperate souls who are in financial trouble, and he has no heart or conscience about seizing their property when they cannot repay the loans. As the Romantics were on the side of the common folk and against the greed of the world, Irving shows his Romanticism in condemning Tom for his behavior.

Finally, if the Romantics wanted to depict the world as we wish it to be, justice is a clear desire of most people. The story fulfills our yearning for justice, with Tom duly punished for his misdeeds.

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," there are a number of Romantic elements. Firstly, Romanticism is deeply concerned with nature, particularly its beauty, and this is shown in the opening of the story when the narrator talks about the "beautiful dark grove" and the "immense size" of the trees. The narrator, therefore, has a true appreciation of his natural surroundings.

Secondly, through the character of the Devil, the story has a strong supernatural element, which is another feature of Romantic literature. Supernatural mystery is also present in the story, and is shown through the sudden and unexplained disappearance of Tom's wife.

In addition, nostalgia for the past is another feature of Romanticism and this is shown through the character of Tom, particularly when he ages. According to the text, as he "waxed old," for instance, Tom grew "thoughtful" and began to reflect on past events. This leads to another Romantic element: a focus on self. For Tom, this is shown through his sudden interest in life after death. He becomes a devout church-goer, for instance, as well as a "censurer" of his neighbors.

The supernatural rears its head again at the end of the story when Tom is taken away by the Devil and never seen again.This leaves the reader with little doubt of the story's moral message: desiring great fortune and favoring money over all things will only lead to ruin.

For more information on Romanticism, please see the reference link provided.

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Part of the idea behind Romanticism was to explore the inner nature of man.  Here, the whole story focuses on the inner nature of Tom Walker.  We see his struggle with his own greed and ambition, and we see the negative consequences when he loses that struggle.  We also see his reaction to fear, how he turns to a religion he doesn't even believe in so that he might save himself before death. 

As Tom waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious.... He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions.

Another element of Romanticism was a celebration of nature and a focus on how nature co-existed with humanity.  This is shown throughout the story in the description of the woods where Tom met the Devil.  The description detailed so as to "bring it to life", and it starts in the first paragraph:

On one side of this inlet is a beautiful dark grove; on the opposite side the land rises abruptly from the water's edge, into a high ridge on which grow a few scattered oaks of great age and immense size.

The land rising shows personification, giving human qualities to nature.

Finally, Romanticism used fantastical - or supernatural - details to emphasize the spirituality of the human.  This is shown in the appearance/disappearance of the Devil, and that later disappearance of Tom.

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