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The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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Tom Walker's actions after making a deal with the devil in "The Devil and Tom Walker"


After making a deal with the devil in "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom Walker becomes a ruthless moneylender, exploiting those in desperate financial situations to amass wealth. He grows increasingly miserly and hypocritical, even attempting to cheat the devil by becoming ostentatiously religious. Ultimately, his greed and moral corruption lead to his downfall.

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What five actions did Tom take to break his deal with the devil in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

Tom Walker entered into his contract with the devil willingly. He was driven to do so by greed and an unscrupulous nature. He rarely considered the thoughtlessness of his bargain until he began to grow old. As he faced his own mortality, Irving writes that Tom Walker “thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent church goer.” This is the first attempt to renounce his deal with the devil. He does not simply attend worship services, however. He employs a second strategy:

 “He prayed loudly and strenuously as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs. Indeed, one might always tell when he had sinned most during the week, by the clamour of his Sunday devotion.” In this instance, he seems to believe that the force of his repentant cries will be enough to erase the bargain that he has contracted with the devil.

Tom Walker’s fears grow more intense and he shifts his focus from his own pains to appear righteous to the sins of his neighbors:

“ Tom was as rigid in religious, as in money matters; he was a stern supervisor and censurer of his neighbours, and seemed to think every sin entered up to their account became a credit on his own side of the page. He even talked of the expediency of reviving the persecution of quakers and anabaptists. In a word, Tom's zeal became as notorious as his riches.” Here, he hopes that by censoring and condemning his neighbors for their sinful habits, he will gain salvation for himself.

The fourth step he takes in securing a release for himself is to superstitiously keep a bible on or near his person at all times. He hopes that the presence of the Holy Scriptures will ward off any attack from the devil. To protect himself, therefore, he kept a small bible in his pocket and another on his desk:

“Still, in spite of all this strenuous attention to forms, Tom had a lurking dread that the devil, after all, would have his due. That he might not be taken unawares, therefore, it is said he always carried a small bible in his coat pocket. He had also a great folio bible on his counting house desk, and would frequently be found reading it when people called on business;”

Finally, when the grim reaper approached Tom to take his life as payment for his pledge, he ran. With all the energy he could muster, Tom Walker attempted unsuccessfully to outrun death:

“Away went Tom Walker, dashing down the streets; his white cap bobbing up and down; his morning gown fluttering in the wind, and his steed striking fire out of the pavement at every bound. When the clerks turned to look for the black man he had disappeared.”


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What three actions does Tom take to change his life after making a deal with the devil in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

Tom becomes a money-lender, exacting "good pay and security," by charging higher fees to those who most needed the credit he could offer. In the process, he becomes very wealthy. He built a "vast house" with all the money he had (though he was too cheap to furnish it) and he even bought a carriage (but wouldn't feed the horses enough, because it was too expensive.) As he gets older, "having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about the next." He also, as an inveterate cheapskate, begins to think of ways that he might cheat Old Scratch out of his due. The first thing he does is to begin attending church regularly, where he is very ostentatious in his displays of faith. He prays "loudly and strenuously," and makes a point of passing judgment on his fellow churchgoers, most of whom had not discovered faith as late as he had. The second thing he did was to begin carrying a Bible around at all times, and to have a large copy on his desk while he made his business deals. Finally, it was rumored that, as he got older and more "crack-brained," Tom had his horse shod and buried with its feet sticking up, because he thought that when the world came to an end, everything would be turned upside down. He thought the horse would be ready for him to quickly flee the wrath of Old Scratch. Of course, these efforts at eluding Old Scratch are in vain, and the devil gets his due, so to speak.

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What three actions does Tom take to change his life after making a deal with the devil in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

After making his deal with the Devil, Tom Walker becomes a usurer, becoming a wealthy and "mighty man." However, as he grows older, Tom regrets the bargain which he has made. So, he tries to make up for his sins by doing the following: 

  1. He became a "violent churchgoer," praying loudly if he had sinned.
  2. He censures his neighbors's sins
  3. He carries a Bible in his coat pocket.

As Tom grows older, he begins to worry about the next life, pondering with regret now on the bargain that he has made with Old Scratch. So, he sets out to cheat Old Scratch of the bargain for his soul, hoping to retrieve his soul before he dies. He, therefore, becomes very rigid in his religion. But, because he feels that the Devil will "have his due," Tom carries the Bible with him. Nevertheless, his true nature emerges. One day there are three loud knocks at the door of his business. Outside stands a black man with a black horse, which stamps with impatience. "Tom, you're come for," said the black man, and Tom shrinks back in fear. The black man whisks Tom off with Tom on his back as he gallops away, and Tom Walker never returns.

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