There are basically three physical settings, all in New England, which provide the backdrop for Washington Irving's tale "The Devil and Tom Walker ." The time is "about" 1727, when New England was a colony of Great Britain and, as Irving reports, the area was beset by earthquakes....
There are basically three physical settings, all in New England, which provide the backdrop for Washington Irving's tale "The Devil and Tom Walker." The time is "about" 1727, when New England was a colony of Great Britain and, as Irving reports, the area was beset by earthquakes. One of the physical settings is "a thickly wooded swamp or morass" populated by groves of hemlock trees and a "few scattered oaks." This is the lair of "Old Scratch" as Tom calls him, but is in reality the incarnation of the devil. He lives in these woods and protects the treasure of "Kidd the pirate," buried under a tree many years before the events of the story.
Another setting is Tom Walker's house near the swamp. It is "forlorn-looking" with "an air of starvation." Irving describes it as a sterile place marked by "straggling savin trees." The savin juniper is a low-maintenance shrub and is certainly symbolic of the neglectful ways of Tom Walker since it seems to be the only thing which will grow in the vicinity of his house. The barren nature of the place is further noted by the appearance of Tom's horse, which is "miserable" with "ribs. . . as articulate as the bars of a gridiron." Moreover, the place is referred to as a "land of famine."
After his wife apparently becomes a victim of "Old Scratch," Tom moves to Boston, where he is seen "seated behind his desk in a countinghouse." When he rejects the Devil's request that he become a slave trader, Tom settles on usury and makes his fortune, with the initial capital provided by the Devil, loaning money to Bostonians who are gullible enough to pay the exorbitant interest rates which Tom offers. Finally, Tom is picked up by the Devil and "whisked" off to the "hemlock swamp," which is subsequently hit by a "thunderbolt" and bursts into flames.