Expert Answers
mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Originally created in the middle ages, the legend of Faust or Doctor Faustus, as he was later named by the English playwright Christopher Marlowe, is about a man who sells his soul to the devil. In the original medieval story, Faust makes a bargain with the devil gaining magical and supernatural powers. The character later became the tragic central figure in Marlowe's 16th century play (Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare and Doctor Faustus was first performed in about 1594). In Marlowe's play, Faustus makes a deal with the devil, gaining worldly power and pleasure for twenty-four years. As the time draws closer to the end of the deal, Faustus regrets his decision and turns to God and religion to help him out of his predicament. Unfortunately, God cannot save him, and in the end he is taken away by the devil. The German playwright Goethe also wrote a variation of the story (simply titled Faust and published in 1790) which involves a struggle between God and the devil, here named Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles tempts Faust with both worldly knowledge and pleasure. At one point Faust even marries Helen of Troy. Unlike the Marlowe play, Faust's soul goes to heaven instead of hell.

Washington Irving, and many writers before him and after, used the Faust legend as inspiration. In "The Devil and Tom Walker" Irving sticks with Marlowe's ending and, although Tom seeks redemption by going to church, his soul is taken by the devil in the end of the story as a "black man" on a "black horse" whisks him away to the dark swamp where the deal was made and Tom is seen no more.