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...
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