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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How does Tom respond to the Devil's offer in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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Tom's initial meeting with the Devil in this story is a hilarious sequence, because it doesn't quite go like one would expect a stereotypical meeting Satan moment would go. Any normal and sane person should be terrified to be speaking face to face with Lucifer himself, but Tom Walker doesn't even blink. In fact, the narrator even tells readers that Tom should have been scared like a normal person; however, Tom isn't scared for two reasons. He's stubborn, and he lives with a "termagant" wife.

One would think that to meet with such a singular personage in this wild, lonely place would have shaken any man's nerves; but Tom was a hard-minded fellow, not easily daunted, and he had lived so long with a termagant wife that he did not even fear the devil.

The Devil and Tom end up having a fairly cordial conversation with each other, and the Devil decided that Tom was a man worth making a deal with. The Devil offers Tom great riches in exchange for Tom agreeing to do some of the Devil's work. Amazingly, Tom doesn't agree to the deal. He doesn't say "no" either, but Tom has the bravery to tell the Devil that he'll think about it for a bit. Then Tom decides to not go through with the deal at all just to spite his wife.

However Tom might have felt disposed to sell himself to the devil, he was determined not to do so to oblige his wife; so he flatly refused, out of the mere spirit of contradiction.

Tom eventually makes the deal with Satan, but he still has the confidence to negotiate exactly what kind of Satan servant he's willing to be.

. . . 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-trader.

Finding Tom so squeamish on this point, he did not insist upon it, but proposed, instead, that he should turn usurer . . .

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Tom Walker, the protagonist of Washington Irving's "The Devil and Tom Walker," meets the Devil in a swampy land on his way home. Tom, having lived with an abusive wife, "had no fear of the devil." Initially, Tom refuses the Devil's offer of Captain Kidd's treasure for his soul. 

Later, after his wife disappears and Tom realizes that he will not have to share his wealth, Tom accepts the Devil's offer. Although he refuses to be a slave trader as part of the deal, Tom does agree to be a usurer (one who loans money including an exuberant amount of interest). Over time, Tom believes that he has found a way to beat the Devil (by becoming a Christian). Yet, a deal is a deal, and Tom cannot break his contract. While unafraid of the Devil at the beginning, Tom does fear the Devil at the end. The Devil gets what he wants (which is Tom). 

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