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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Is Tom Walker better or worse than other prominent Puritans in Boston?

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One could consider Tom Walker no better or worse than the other hypocritical Puritans that Washington Irving satirizes at various times throughout the story. Irving portrays the hypocritical personalities and inherently wicked nature of prominent, celebrated members of Boston's Puritan community. Irving vividly portrays Deacon Peabody as a corrupt, selfish...

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man whose outward appearance hides his inherent wickedness. In addition to portraying the town's deacon as a wicked man, Irving criticizes Puritan society for their violence toward Native Americans, Anabaptists, and Quakers. Irving understood that the Puritan community was more focused on maintaining their outward appearances than exercising tolerance and peace and spreading love, which made it easy for him to satirize their hypocritical lifestyles. Similarly, Tom Walker also becomes an overt hypocrite by portraying himself as a zealous Christian while simultaneously taking advantage of less fortunate individuals. Overall, Tom Walker is no better or worse than Deacon Peabody and the other selfish, corrupt Puritans.

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I don't think that Irving intends for Tom to be viewed as better or worse than the other Puritans in the story.  Tom is simply another somewhat religious hypocrite that Irving satirizes.  While Tom does prey on his fellow townsmen and church acquaintances, taking advantage of them even when they are in dire straits, his "sin" is no worse than the other greedy Puritans who grab land from other humans or who judge others even though they are just as guilty of the same type of sins.

The commonality between Tom and the other Puritans/townleaders in the story is that they are all selfish characters who greedily take what they want and think nothing of how that might harm someone else.

Humorous as Irving's story might be, when coupled with some of Hawthorne's stories/novels and Arthur Miller's The Crucible, it does cause readers of American Lit to view the Puritans in a negative light.

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Is Tom Walker better or worse than the other Puritans in Boston?

"The Devil and Tom Walker" is a short story written by Washington Irving.  Although Tom Walker is the protagonist of the story, he embodies some less than desirable traits; greed is not only his most overwhelming personal flaw, but it is also his downfall.  The fact that, after he makes a deal with the devil, Tom Walker operates a usury business in Boston, which is a Puritanical society, only serves to highlight the fact that greed overtakes him.  He has no qualms about taking advantage of those who are more honest or less greedy than himself.

While Walker does, in his later years, attempt to embrace what he perceives to be the safety of the church, he does so only superficially.  The only reason he even pretends to accept the church's doctrines is because he is terrified of "Old Scratch" coming for him.

He prayed loudly and strenuously, as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs.  Indeed, one might always tell when he had sinned most during the week, by the clamor of his Sunday devotion.  The quiet Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly traveling Zionward, were struck with self-reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by this new-made convert.  Tom was as rigid in relion as in money matters...In a word, Tom's zeal became as notorious as his riches.

Tom Walker appeared to be better in his devotion to some elements of the Puritan life, yet he did not quit his work as a usurer or truly understand or accept Christianity.

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