What seems to be the narrator’s attitude toward the events of The Devil and Tom Walker? What does Irving gain by using this type of narrator rather than having Tom relate the events?

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junebug614 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narration in "The Devil and Tom Walker" is interesting because it doesn't exactly mesh with the content of the text. Typically, stories told about the Devil are frightening, and the narrator is teaching a lesson about the perils of having an unscrupulous lifestyle.  This narrator, however, is different. He takes almost a comical approach to the story, and there are a few lighthearted, even funny, comments within the text.  For example, when describing the home of Tom and his wife, the narrator states, "The lonely wayfarer shrunk within himself at the horrid clamor and clapper clawing; eyed the den of discord askance, and hurried on his way, rejoicing, if a bachelor, in his celibacy."

Another example is when Tom recounts the offer he received from the Devil and his wife's reaction:  

However Tom might have felt disposed to sell himself to the devil, he was determined not to do so to oblige his wife; so he flatly refused out of the mere spirit of contradiction. Many and bitter were the quarrels they had on the subject, but the more she talked the more resolute was Tom not to be damned to please her.

And a final example, when Tom finds that his wife has disappeared, probably at the hands of "Old Scratch":  "Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property with the loss of his wife; for he was a man of fortitude." 

All of these examples come together to create a relatively lighthearted approach to serious subject matter. What Irving gains by this is a more approachable, interesting text in which the reader may learn an important lesson: one's actions are far more important than one's words--seen by Tom Walker trying to weasel out of his deal by attending church and reading the Bible. His heart was not changed, and he ended up being taken by the Devil anyway.  The lighthearted, comical tone makes it much easier to see the lesson and learn from Tom's mistakes.  

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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