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The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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In "The Devil and Tom Walker," what do the comments about earthquakes imply about their cause?

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There is one comment about earthquakes in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and it goes as follows:

About the year 1727, just at the time that earthquakes were prevalent in New England, and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees, there lived near this place a meagre, miserly fellow, of the name of Tom Walker.

That fact that earthquakes are bringing "sinners" to prayer suggests that the local people believe the earthquakes are acts of God meant as a punishment to people for their misbehavior. This local faith in the supernatural is appropriate for a story in which Tom sells his soul to the devil.

Good and evil, God and the devil, are close at hand in this tale. We learn, for example, that the swamp Tom Walker cuts through to get home is feared by the local people as a place where the Indians, called "savages," used to make sacrifices to the "Evil Spirit." In fact, it is implied that Tom's flagrant disregard for the supernatural, which allows him to cross the swamp without fear, is what gets him in trouble. If he had been more attuned to good and evil, he might have avoided this evil spot (and lived a more morally upright life) and thus missed his encounter with the devil.

Tom is, however, open to the temptations the devil offers him in the form of wealth and quickly comes to believe in his power. In the end, at least according to local people's lore, Tom gets his just desserts for his evil life of ruining other people's finances.

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