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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Why did Tom enter the swampy forest in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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Tom Walker's taking of a shortcut through the swamp is deeply symbolic. The swamp itself represents the world and all its moral corruption. And so Tom's fateful decision to take a shortcut through it indicates the value he attaches to the things of this world such as wealth and social status which can all too often corrupt the soul.

This makes him an ideal mark for the devil, who tempts Tom with Captain Kidd's buried treasure in return for his soul. Eventually, Tom strikes a suitably diabolical bargain with Old Nick and ends up wealthy but miserable and worried sick about the consequences of his pact with the devil. Tom's unhappy fate is intended to serve as a warning. As with all too many people, he's chosen to take a shortcut in life, straying from the path of righteousness in his pursuit of worldly goods.

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In Washington Irving's short story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom comes to find himself in the swamp. Upon his way home, from a "distant part of the neighborhood," Tom decides to take a shortcut through the swamp.

This shortcut proves to be what shortcuts normally are: "an ill-chosen route." For Tom, the return home (by way of the swamp) proves to be a choice he will pay for with his life.

While the shortcut through the swap was shorter in distance, Tom's time with the Devil proved to be more consuming than going the long way home. Therefore, Tom's comes to go through the "swampy forest" by choice, in order to shorten the walk home.

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