Introduction to The Devil and Tom Walker

Washington Irving's short story "The Devil and Tom Walker" was originally published in 1824 as part of Tales of a Traveller. The volume is comprised of four books with a total of thirty-two short stories, all narrated by Irving’s personable narrator, Geoffrey Crayon. Irving's earlier collection, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published serially through 1819 and 1820, includes several of his best-known short stories, such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." Despite the success of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Irving's Tales of a Traveller was not well received, with only the short stories "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "Kidd the Pirate" gaining notoriety out of the collection. In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” Irving offers a cautionary tale of a New England miser who makes a deal with the devil and amasses great wealth as a moneylender before being carried off to hell. Framed as an American folktale and set in the eighteenth century, the story reflects both Romantic influences and Protestant moral ideals.

A Brief Biography of Washington Irving

Washington Irving (1783–1859), though he wrote extensively throughout his life, is remembered essentially for two short stories. One focuses on a man who falls asleep for twenty years, and the other is a spooky tale about a teacher who loses his head. “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” have become enduring classics, inspiring numerous film and television adaptations. Yet the erudite Irving, born and raised in Manhattan, made his name early with sophisticated satire. Politics and social issues were equally important to Irving. Following his extensive travels throughout the frontier, Irving was unabashedly critical of the United States’ dealings with Indigenous peoples. It was not a popular stance at that time, but it typified Irving’s complexity and the hidden depths of his written works.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Devil and Tom Walker

The Devil and Tom Walker

When Tom Walker is taken by the black horseman, it is generally assumed that he is a rich man, though the narrator has already warned the reader that Tom's grand house and fine carriage are mere...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 8:28 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

Tom Walker and his wife cheat each other because they are both so miserly, as individuals, that they are constantly trying to keep things from one another and hide them away for themselves. To be...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 9:36 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

When Irving describes the Walkers' dwelling-place, he's not just doing it for effect; he's telling us something about the people who live inside it. Earlier on in the story, he told us that both...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 1:13 pm (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

Traveling through a swamp that most people avoid because of its association with tales of the devil, Tom Walker meets a soot-covered man with black hair sticking out in all directions. They talk,...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 11:20 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

Tom Walker has sold his soul to the devil, so it's not surprising that he should turn into such a nasty person. As part of the diabolical pact he made with Old Scratch, Tom didn't get just get his...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 11:04 am (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

Tom Walker has come to realize that the pact he made with the devil is a very bad deal indeed. In fact, it's so bad that he doesn't really get anything out of it, certainly nothing that brings him...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 11:15 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

Tom tries to use religion to free himself from the devil's claim on his immortal soul, thinking he can outsmart the devil this way. The irony is that the way Tom practices Christianity only binds...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 11:35 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

The devil, otherwise known as Old Scratch, is taking Tom Walker on a guided tour of some trees in the forest. There are two remarkable things about these trees. First of all, although they seem...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2020, 11:30 am (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

Tom first meets the devil in a swamp near his home, which is outside Boston, Massachusetts. Tom takes a shortcut through the swamp, which the story explains to be a piece of land with some rich...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 12:34 pm (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

Washington Irving's short story "The Devil and Tom Walker" is full of symbolism. Tom himself is primarily a symbol of greed, though later in the story, he also serves as a symbol of hypocrisy. Tom...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 12:01 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

At this point in "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom has made his pact with the devil and grown rich as a moneylender. Now he is getting old and is beginning to regret the pact, so he tries to find a...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 5:16 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

The answer to this question is a matter of opinion, but a very strong argument could be made that Tom Walker did deserve his fate. Tom is a miser who proves that he will do nearly anything for...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:40 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

The story does not explicitly say why Tom Walker is greedy. Instead, it shows that Tom's greed comes from the fact that he has no religious faith and no human community to fall back on. The story...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:55 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

In the story, Tom Walker makes a pact with Old Scratch, or the devil, after his wife dies at the devil's hands. For his part, Tom finds little to mourn about his wife's death. In fact, he believes...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 1:23 pm (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

For centuries, the practice of usury, or lending money at interest, was either frowned upon or, in some cases, forbidden altogether in the Christian West. Even when tolerated, it was not thought to...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:36 am (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

After Tom's wife dies in a battle with the devil, Tom Walker approaches him. They begin to bargain over terms. The story's narrator says, There was one condition which need not be mentioned, being...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:40 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

The black man in the "Devil and Tom Walker" is the devil. The text is at pains to point out that this individual's blackness has nothing to do with race. The narrator states: The stranger was...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:19 am (UTC)

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The Devil and Tom Walker

In "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom Walker is a miserable and selfish man who values money and material things, although he has neither. He is in a terrible marriage to a woman he despises, who also...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 1:08 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

At the end of Washington Irving's short story "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom Walker, who is a moneylender, is foreclosing a mortgage. This foreclosure will ruin the speculator who borrowed the...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:44 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil and Tom Walker

In keeping with many similar stories—most notably the Faust legend—Tom Walker strikes a diabolical bargain with the devil that involves selling his soul. A very greedy, unprincipled man, Tom sees...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2020, 11:48 am (UTC)

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Summary