illustrated outline of a person's head with a red thumbprint on the forehead with an outline of the devil behind

The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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The Devil and Tom Walker Characters

The main characters in "The Devil and Tom Walker" are Tom Walker, Tom's wife, Old Scratch, Captain Kidd, and Geoffrey Crayon.

  • Tom Walker is a miser who makes a deal with the devil.
  • Tom's wife is a similarly miserly woman, who dies while attempting to make a bargain with the devil.
  • Old Scratch is another name for the devil. He offers Tom the treasure buried by the pirate Captain Kidd.
  • Captain Kidd is a pirate rumored to have buried his treasure in the swamp outside of Boston.
  • Geoffrey Crayon is the narrator.

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Tom Walker

In Washington Irving's short story "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom Walker is a meager, hard-minded, and miserly man. He lives with his wife and suffers through daily arguments with her. Tom and his wife are similar in their miserly attitudes. Tom shows an unapologetic and cold outlook on life. He is cynical, due to his dire financial circumstances and his bad relationship with his wife. This cynicism allows him to befriend the devil. He does not show fear when meeting the devil in the swamp, because nothing could be worse than his wife. (Read extended character analysis of Tom Walker.)

Old Scratch

The titular devil, or Old Scratch, fuels Tom Walker's greed and serves as the catalyst for the story's events. The devil represents moral sin and seeks to corrupt others. In this respect, he uses Tom Walker's ambition for his own purposes. The devil is described as a “great black man,” because his face is covered in soot and dirt. He wears a red belt, or sash, and carries a large axe upon his back. He also has black hair that sticks out in many directions and large red eyes. (Read extended character analysis of Old Scratch.)

Tom Walker’s Wife

Tom’s Walker's wife is an example of a person whose greed and apathy are rewarded with the punishment of death. Her cruel and meager nature lead to her punishment, just as Tom’s actions eventually do.

She is described as a termagant, or an overbearing abrasive person. She is heavy-handed, verbally and physically abusive, and just as miserly as Tom. She and Tom have a bad relationship, and Tom spites her when she asks him to comply with the devil, retrieve Kidd’s treasure, and make the both of them rich. When Tom refuses to get the treasure, his wife decides to visit the devil herself. This shows that Tom’s wife is as morally corrupt as he is. She doesn’t care about the possible spiritual toll and danger to her own life. She is simply driven by greed.

After her first visit to the devil, Tom’s wife comes home disappointed. She is unable to learn the whereabouts of the treasure. Instead, she has been asked to bring something valuable for the devil. Tom’s wife collects all the valuables in the house, mostly silverware, and brings it to the devil, who then kills her.

Although the text offers many renditions of her death, it is most likely that she put up a great fight against the devil before being killed. Around the tree where she likely died were many hoof prints and clumps of hair, showing signs of struggle. Tom finds her apron hanging in that same tree and, in a testament to his lack of love, only hopes to find the valuables which she had taken. He is disappointed to find her heart and her liver in the apron in the place of valuables. Instead of pitying or missing his wife, he feels bad for the devil, who he assumes “must have had a tough time of it!”

Captain Kidd

Captain Kidd, known as Kidd the Pirate, is said to have buried treasure in a grove of oaks above the swamp some miles from Boston, Massachusetts. The devil presided over the burial of the treasure and has been protecting it since Kidd was hanged for piracy.

Kidd’s treasure is later pursued by Tom’s wife and is dug up and claimed by Tom himself after he makes a deal with devil.

Absalom Crowninshield

Absalom Crowninshield is a wealthy man of the colony who gained his wealth through buccaneering. A corrupt individual, Crowninshield’s tree in the devil’s swamp has been completely cut down and is “ready for burning,” according to the devil. Symbolically, this means that Crowninshield will die and then burn in hell.

Tom’s wife later tells Tom that Crowninshield has passed away, which confirms for Tom that the devil controls the deaths and afterlives of the corrupt men of higher society.

Deacon Peabody

Deacon Peabody is a wealthy but corrupt man of the colony. His name is seen on a tree in the swamp, rotting from the inside and scored with the devil’s axe marks. The devil plans to cut down Peabody’s tree and use it for firewood. The tree’s fate symbolizes Peabody’s: he will die and, as punishment for his sins, burn in hell in the afterlife.

The Unlucky Land-Speculator

The unlucky land-speculator is a customer of Tom’s. He gets into an argument with Tom, claiming that Tom had taken all his money. Tom responds that the devil should take him if he has made anything. The argument leads to Tom's being taken away by the devil, an event which surprises no one in the colony.

Governor Jonathan Belcher

Governor Jonathan Belcher is the current governor of the colony of Massachusetts when Tom begins his work as a usurer. Belcher has created an economic depression with his bad leadership, forcing many people of the colony to require loans. Due to this, Tom’s job as a usurer is well-timed, as many colonists are in need of his help and can be easily taken advantage of.

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Tom Walker