The Devil and Tom Walker Introduction
by Washington Irving

The Devil and Tom Walker book cover
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So you’re going to teach “The Devil and Tom Walker.” This classic piece of American literature has been a mainstay of English classes for generations. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time guiding students through the text, some teaching tips will help ensure that the experience is rewarding for everyone, including you. Studying “The Devil and Tom Walker” will expose students to moral allegories and themes surrounding moral corruption, societal issues, and Faustian legend. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1824
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9-10
  • Approximate Word Count: 4,700
  • Author: Washington Irving
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Short Story, Folktale
  • Literary Period: Romanticism
  • Narration: Third-Person
  • Conflict: Person vs. Self, Person vs. Person, Person vs. Supernatural
  • Setting: Colony of New England, 1727, North America
  • Structure: Moral Allegory
  • Mood: Colloquial, Satirical

Texts That Go Well With "The Devil and Tom Walker"

“Afterward,” a short story by Edith Wharton published in 1910, is a gothic ghost story about a couple who move into a haunted house. The story follows the disappearance and death of the main character’s husband. It promotes the theme that greed is a sin that will eventually be punished, just as Tom’s greed in “The Devil and Tom Walker” proves his undoing.

“The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1936), by Stephen Vincent Benét, initially resembles “The Devil and Tom Walker” closely: both stories feature a poor man who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for his soul. However, where Tom Walker readily agrees to do the devil’s work and become a usurer, Jabez Stone resists. When the devil comes to collect his soul, he hires the famed American lawyer and orator Daniel Webster to defend him in a trial. Both stories prominently feature regional American history, Faustian legend, and moral instruction, with “The Devil and Daniel Webster” directly drawing inspiration from Irving’s work.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving, was published in Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819 and 1820. The story is a prime example of Irving’s use of gothic elements. It revolves around superstition and fear: Ichabod Crane is tricked into believing the legend of the headless horseman. Both “The Devil and Tom Walker” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” have vividly described settings which give each story an ominous and spooky tone.

(The entire section is 633 words.)