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

Start Free Trial

How does Tom die in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

Quick answer:

In "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom dies in the midst of an argument about foreclosing a mortgage, when he cries out: "The devil take me ... if I have made a farthing!" At this point, there are three loud knocks on the door, and when Tom answers it, he finds a black figure with a black horse. This is the devil, come to take him away.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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 money and who begs for a few more months to pay. Tom, however, refuses to give him a single day. As they argue over the matter, the speculator points out that Tom has made a great deal of money out of their dealings already, whereupon Tom cries out:

The devil take me ... if I have made a farthing!

As soon as he says these words, there are three loud knocks on the door. When he goes to answer the summons, Tom finds a sinister black figure, who abruptly tells him, "Tom, you’re come for!" The man whisks Tom up onto his horse and rides away with him. The moneylender is never seen again, becoming nothing more than a proverb in the memories of his neighbors. Irving says that this was the end of Tom Walker, and the implication is that, since Tom made a pact with the devil earlier in the story, this combination of lie and blasphemy in his argument with the speculator is the cue for the devil to claim his due and take his servant away on his black horse to hell.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What finally happens to 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 that Old Scratch has done him a favor by claiming his shrewish wife. Inspired by his greed, Tom approaches the devil. In exchange for access to the pirate's treasure, Tom agrees to serve the devil.

Initially, Old Scratch orders Tom to become a slave trader, but Tom refuses. In the end, both agree that Tom will be a usurer. In his new job, Tom is relentless in his quest for money and prestige. He lends to the

needy and adventurous, the gambling speculator, the dreaming land-jobber, the thriftless tradesman, the merchant with cracked credit.

The text tells us that Tom shows no mercy to the poor, who often struggle to meet their financial obligations. With the money he earns, Tom builds a large house. However, due to his miserly habits, he leaves much of the house unfinished and unfurnished. We are told that he also purchases a carriage and that he nearly starves the horses who pull it.

As time progresses, Tom fears for the state of his soul. He becomes a religious fanatic and takes to carrying a Bible with him constantly. However, his new habits fail to save him from the devil's clutches. One day, while a poor land-jobber asks for more time to pay his debts, Tom is caught unawares by the devil's presence.

Old Scratch grabs Tom, puts the hapless miser onto his horse, and takes him away. According to the text, a countryman sees Tom and the devil racing across the fields to the black hemlock swamp near the old Indian fort. Then, a thunderbolt falls from the sky and sets the whole forest ablaze. Tom is never heard from or seen again.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what happens to Tom's treasure at the end of the story?

At the beginning of the story, it is established that the treasure, already "ill-gotten", is presided over and guarded by the Devil. In stories like this, that usually doesn't bode well for the character unlucky enough to meet him, or for the honesty to be expected in any of the Devil's words or objects.

Surely enough, when the Devil claims Tom (as part of their bargain) at the end of the story, most of Tom's worldly possessions are left behind, such as his home and horses. The horses are discovered to be dead, and the house burns down the next day. The treasure is discovered to be a chest filled with "chips and shavings"; small pieces of wood - a subtle reference to the Devil's identity as the "Black Woodsman". The actual treasure may never have existed, or it may have been taken to Hell - its fate, and indeed its existence in the first place, are unclear. 

Part of the point of ensuring that the treasure followed Tom to Hell was to show that his earthly acts could not be separated from his character; it would be impossible for him to pass on his wealth to anyone else because it was bound to his soul.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what finally happens to Tom Walker?

Tom cuts what is traditionally called a "Faustian bargain", trading his soul to the Devil in exchange for worldly favors. In the context of the story this detail is left out, being referred to as something that "need not be mentioned" but is "generally understood" in such circumstances. This emphasizes that the focus of the story is not upon the exact course of the plot, because we already have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen; Tom is going to try to skip out on the bargain, and the Devil is probably going to collect his soul anyway.

Surely enough, as Tom ages he loses his carefree attitude and begins to think about death and the fate that awaits him, and attempts to alleviate his fears by going to church and carrying Bibles. The Devil catches him at the door one morning, his protective Bibles misplaced, and puts him astride a black horse, which gallops out of town and into the swamp, apparently to the old Indian fort where Tom first met the Devil, and thereafter Tom disappears. All of Tom's worldly possessions are either transformed into useless junk, or destroyed by natural acts. It is suggested that his ghost still haunts the swamp.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on