Do you feel that Tom Walker deserved his fate? 

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like many readers, I certainly feel that Tom Walker deserved his fate in Washington Irving's short story "The Devil and Tom Walker." Our first introduction to Tom is brief and to the point; he is described as "a meagre miserly fellow" who engages with his equally miserly wife in conflicts that are "many and fierce."

We immediately can sense that Tom is not a particularly good-hearted or decent man. Thus, when Tom encounters Old Scratch in the woods and is offered great riches in exchange for his soul, it is not surprising to us that the offer tempts him. We see his contrarian nature appear when he returns home and tells his wife of the offer; when she encourages him to take it, he decides not to "out of the mere spirit of contradiction" as he was "determined not to do so to oblige his wife" despite his interest in making such a deal. His wife's subsequent death--after she attempts to sell her own soul--doesn't seem to have a large emotional impact on him, which only reinforces our picture of Tom as a cruel and unkind man. 

Tom's fate--to ultimately be swept away by the "black man" who retrieves him on horseback and disappears into a thunderstorm--seems fitting given the poor quality of his character and the fact that he knew exactly what he was getting into. Despite the warning bells that appeared (his wife's untimely death, the black mark of Old Scratch, etc.), Tom willfully enters into the agreement and gets exactly what he had asked for--immense riches at the cost of his soul. 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington Irving's "The Devil and Tom Walker" tells of the age old story (originating with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust) of a man willing to sell his soul to the Devil for a better life. In Tom's case, a better life is made so through wealth. 

Tom Walker can be seen as a sort of tragic hero. He possesses a hamartia (or a tragic flaw) illustrated by his greedy nature. Readers can feel sorry for him based upon his horrible relationship with his wife; his wife beats him ("his face sometimes showed signs that their conflicts were not confined to words"). Readers may feel as though his death is not wholly deserved. 

In one sense, readers could state that Tom Walker does deserve his fate (death). He did, in fact, make a pact with the devil, become a usurer (money lender who lends money at an exuberant rate), and uses the Bible as a shield. 

On the other hand, Tom did refuse to become a slave trader and lived with an abusive wife for a very long time. Some readers may feel so sorry for him that his fate may seem a little harsh. 

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The Devil and Tom Walker

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