What are some similes, metaphors, personification, and sensory references in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Washington Irving's narrative sketch, "The Devil and Tom Walker," employs several literary devices.

  • Imagery (sensory references)

As a Romantic writer, Irving describes the beauty of the natural setting of his tale. In the exposition, for instance, the narrator uses visual imagery as he describes "a beautiful, dark grove [where] the land rises. . . into a high ridge."

As Tom Walker makes his way through the swamp, he finds himself among "pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses" (visual imagery) that often trick the traveler into walking on them. Then, the traveler might sink into "a gulf of smothering mud" (organic imagery). Later, Tom encounters Old Scratch and finds himself looking into "a pair of red eyes" (visual imagery).

As he continues, there is auditory imagery as Tom is startled by the "sudden screaming of the bittern" or "the quacking of a wild duck" or the "boding cry of the tree toad." 

  • Personification

The Devil who appears to Tom is personified, or afforded human qualities, with different names: "Old Scratch," "the black man," and "the blacklegs."

In the description of the swamp, the narrator depicts the trunks of the pine and hemlock trees as being "half-drowned."

When Tom returns home and relates his encounter with the devil to his wife, "All her avarice was awakened at the mention of the hidden gold."

  • Similes

In addition to that which is mentioned previously, there is another stated comparison that uses like or as:

As Tom Walker picks his way through the forest, he slowly steps on one tuft, then another, "pacing carefully like a cat."

  • Metaphor

In an unstated comparison, or metaphor, Tom Walker's house is compared to a "den of discord."

The rust on the weapon which Tom uncovers in his digging is likened to "a dreary memento of the fierce struggle" that took place with the Native American warriors of the past.

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mshurn's profile pic

Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The strong imagery in the story appeals to various senses. The swamp is dark and forbidding, "grown with great gloomy pines and hemlocks." It is a visual image of pits, quagmires, weeds, moss, slime, mud, rotting trees, and "stagnant pools" of water. The sounds of thunder claps, howling, hooting owls, and horses' hooves are heard in the story, and the "sweet-smelling" Indian sacrifices are referenced.

The major example of personification is the characterization of evil in the physical form of the devil who appears as a dark man, soiled with soot and dressed in "rude half-Indian garb." In this personification, the devil acts and speaks, luring Tom into a bargain that will cost him his soul.

There are numerous similes and metaphors throughout the story. Tom and his wife's home is metaphorically a "den of discord" and the greed which sweeps over New England is a "great speculating fever that breaks out now and then."

Some of the story's similes include these: The trees rot in the swamp, "looking like alligators sleeping in the mire," and Tom makes his way through the swamp by "pacing carefully, like a cat, along the prostrate trunks of trees."