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The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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Why does Tom initially refuse to bargain with the devil in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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The protagonist in "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving is Tom Walker, a very poor, miserable farmer. One day he is walking home and meets a man in the forest. Tom asks the man who he is; among other things, the man claims he is "the great patron and prompter of slave dealers, and the grand master of the Salem witches." Tom understands that the man who stands before him is the devil, Satan, Old Scratch, or whatever other names people have for him.

After Tom loses his wife (and gains some peace), he finds the devil again, and they begin to bargain over the pirate's treasure which Tom found but which the devil claims is his.

[T]hey began to haggle about the terms on which the former was to have the pirate's treasure. There was one condition which need not be mentioned, being generally understood in all cases where the devil grants favours; but there were others about which, though of less importance, he was inflexibly obstinate. He insisted that the money found through his means should be employed in his service. He proposed, therefore, that Tom should employ it in the black traffick; that is to say, that he should fit out a slave ship. This, however, Tom resolutely refused; he was bad enough in all conscience; but the devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave dealer.

The devil insists that the money must be spent "in his service," and his first choice is that Tome use the money to begin trafficking in slaves. (We should not be surprised, as that is one of the titles the devil claimed for himself when he introduced himself to Tom in the beginning.)

This is the one thing, apparently, that Tom Walker will not do: he will not become a slave trader. He is, however, perfectly will to accept the devil's second suggestion, and he becomes a usurer, one who loans money for exorbitant profit. In accepting the deal, of course, he loses his soul. 

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As seen in Washington Irving's "The Devil and Tom Walker," explain why Tom does not (at first) make a bargain with the devil. 

Washington Irving's "The Devil and Tom Walker" is a tale filled with moral lessons. Irving leaves readers well versed on the consequences, albeit fictional consequences, of greed, hypocrisy, and moral corruption. That said, Tom Walker does show that he is concerned about making a deal with "Old Scratch" without giving it much thought. 

Upon hearing that the Devil has "great sums of money," which belonged to Kid the Pirate, Tom Walker's heart most assuredly began to race. As a miser, Tom refuses to spend money and hoards every bit of it that he can. (Unfortunately, his wife is a miser as well. She even steals from her husband and hides his money.) For Tom, the promise of more money would not seem to be an idea which would require much thought. Yet, Tom does not immediately make a deal with the Devil. 

While the text is not explicit regarding Tom's failure to make an immediate deal with the Devil, the text does state that the "conditions" under which he would get the money must have been "must have been very hard, for he required time to think of them, and he was not a man to stick at trifles where money was in view." 

After returning home, Tom shared the news of the gold with his wife. Immediately, she wishes him to make the deal with the Devil. Bitter and cynical, Tom "flatly refused out of the mere spirit of contradiction," so his wife would not get her way. All said and done, and after careful consideration, Tom eventually makes the deal with the Devil. 

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