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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The Publication of “The Devil and Tom Walker”:Washington Irving (1783–1859) was a prolific writer of short stories. His most famous stories are “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which were both published in his popular collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819 and 1820. “The Devil and Tom Walker” was published in Irving’s 1824 collection Tales of a Traveller. In Tales, Irving once again employs his narrator Geoffrey Crayon, who skeptically relates local beliefs and legends. Tales is divided into four books, each of which has a specific theme. “The Devil and Tom Walker” is included in the book entitled “Money Diggers.” Despite many similarities to his earlier, more popular works, Tales of a Traveller was received with less enthusiasm by critics.

  • Irving went on to publish several more fictional pieces and biographies, most notably the five-volume biography The Life of George Washington (1855–1859). Irving used American settings and influences in his writing. In doing so, he created works that have greatly influenced American literature and culture.

Gothic and Romantic Influences: While the most obvious influence on “The Devil and Tom Walker” is the European folktale tradition, it also contains elements of gothic fiction. Gothic fiction often describes death, horror, and the supernatural. It grew out of Romanticism, a literary movement that aestheticized intense emotions such as terror and awe, and viewed nature as grand—and wild. Many American authors influenced by the Romantic tradition—including Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, and Washington Irving—reflected these Romantic ideals in their writing. Many of Irving’s pieces include Romantic elements, but in “The Devil and Tom Walker” in particular, the Romantic influences give way to the gothic genre.

  • The gothic influence on “The Devil and Tom Walker” can be seen in the story’s combination of a gloomy and isolated setting with supernatural elements. Specific examples include the grim, foreboding swamp; the Native Americans’ witchcraft; the tangible presence of the devil; Tom’s wife’s mysterious death; and Tom’s own unfortunate end. The narrator also relates that Tom’s restless spirit is often seen on stormy nights.

English Colonies and Puritanism: “The Devil and Tom Walker” is set in Massachusetts in 1727, when the colonial population was predominantly Puritan. Historically, the New England colonies in the 1700s were home to many Christian sects, such as the Puritans, Quakers, and Anabaptists. The Puritans were the first religious separatists to migrate to North America and based their theologies on the teachings of John Calvin.

  • A large part of their beliefs center on the concept of “predestination,” which views some people as inherently worthy of salvation and some as unworthy, as decided by an omniscient and all-powerful God.

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Significant Allusions