What is the setting in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The setting in “The Devil and Tom Walker” is very important to the story.  The story is set in Boston in 1727, which is important to the theme of the story because it is a place originally settled by Quakers and Puritans.  These people were very religious, almost to the point of fanaticism.  In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” the author reinvents the Faustian tale of selling one’s soul to the devil for money.  Tom Walker, who seems very pious on the outside, is in reality a sinner who has sold his soul to the devil.   The story is a satire of people who present a pious image on the outside but are not what they seem to be.

In addition, the author describes a dark, mossy swamp.  This is where Tom will meet the devil, and therefore it is important.  “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. Under one of these gigantic trees, according to old stories, there was a great amount of treasure buried by Kidd the pirate.”  The author goes on to tell us that Kidd sold his soul to the devil, so this description is foreshadowing for what will happen later.  When Tom meets the devil in the swamp, it is described as: “full of pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses, where the green surface often betrayed the traveler into a gulf of black, smothering mud; there were also dark and stagnant pools, the abodes of the tadpole, the bullfrog, and the water snake; where the trunks of pines and hemlocks lay half-drowned, half-rotting, looking like alligators sleeping in the mire.”  The swamp is a reflection of the sin-stained souls of the people who go there to sell themselves to the devil.  It is no accident that the large trees standing there are representative of the souls the Devil has purchased; when he cuts them down, this symbolizes the end of the sinner’s life and his eventual arrival in Hell.

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