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 from "The Devil and Tom Walker" better or worse than Boston's prominent Puritans?

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Because the other Puritans are simpler in their hypocrisy, Tom Walker is better than they at the hypocrisy that he practices in this tale of grotesque Romanticism. For, he embraces Puritanism merely as one invests in insurance because he "had a lurking dread that the Devil after all would have his due." Thus, his hypocrisy is sanctimonious

Tom was as rigid in religious as in money matters:  he was a stern supervisor and censurer of his neighbors....He even talked of the expediency of reviving the persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists.

So that he may not be taken "unaware," Tom is strict in religious matters. He always carries a bible, and is found reading it in his countinghouse. When people enter he marks his page with his glasses. Nevertheless, the practiced hypocrite and usurer is taken by surprise in his moral consciousness one night when he is ready to foreclose on a mortgage and without his bible.

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," do you consider Tom better or worse than the other prominent Puritans in New England?

A truthful answer to this question can only be given by the individual respondent, so my answer is simply that of my own point of view.

Tom is, in my perspective, definitely a worse person than the other prominent residents. It should be noted that "Puritans" is probably an improper application of the term here, as the Puritan culture and tradition was largely limited to a time period prior to Tom's story. Nevertheless the impression holds; that despite being a religious society strongly concerned with moral behavior and superstition, the failings of human nature and hypocrisy plague these people. 

Tom, however, is distinctly worse than evidently fallible dignitaries such as Peabody and Crowninshield. While these men have sins that have apparently caused their moral demise, evident in the poor state of the trees which represent them, they did not do these things with a direct mind to serve the Devil in the process (or so we may assume). Nor did they, as far as we know, sell their souls in order to attain their stature.

Despite their failings, we may assume that such people were nevertheless better off in terms of moral wholesomeness, because they did not specifically set out on these paths with the intention of defying and actively working against the "godly" plain laid out for them by the terms of their society and religion. Tom demonstrates a greater degree of evil because he sacrifices his humanity for personal gain, then perpetuates himself upon the suffering of others.

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