The Devil and Tom Walker By Washington Irving
Washington Irving • The youngest and not too well educated son of a pious hardware importer and his amiable wife from New York City. • He had a genius for inventing comic fictional narrators. • In 1815, he was sent off by his father to Liverpool, England, to look after a failing overseas branch of the family business.
Washington Irving • He found the business beyond repair, but loved the British literary scene and stayed abroad for seventeen years. • He was particularly attracted to the works of Romantic novelist, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), who gave Irving advice that was to make his reputation. • Scott told the younger writer to read the German Romantics and find inspiration in folklore and legends.
Washington Irving • In 1817, Irving began to write the first drafts of stories based on German folk tales. • These were narrated by one of Irving’s comic voices, a character he created called Geoffry Crayon. • Irving gave his country its first international literary celebrity. • Today we remember Irving for Rip van Winkle, who slept through the American Revolution, and the Headless Horseman, who plagued the lovelorn Yankee schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane in the dreamy glen of Sleepy Hollow, in New York’s lush Hudson Valley.
The Devil and Tom Walker • Setting: New England in the early 1700s • A narrator relates a story he has heard about a local man’s dealings with the devil. • The narrator never claims that the stories are true, only that they are widely believed. • According to local legend, a treasure is buried in dark grove on an inlet outside of Boston.
The Devil and Tom Walker • It is said that Kidd the Pirate left the treasure there under a gigantic tree and the devil himself “presided at the hiding of the money, and took it under his guardianship.” • Since the pirate Kidd was hanged, no one has disturbed the treasure or challenged the devil’s right to it.
Historical context • At the time Washington Irving wrote “The Devil and Tom Walker,” in 1824, the US was a new and growing country. • As the land was populated by various groups of European immigrants, a uniquely American culture slowly formed as the traditions of many different groups merged and new traditions, brought on by circumstances emerged.
Historical Context • In literature, writers such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, James Fennimore Cooper, and Ralph Waldo Emerson published works that embodied concepts of freedom, religious piety, and independence that characterized the country.
Historical Context • By 1800, NYC was the largest city in the US, but most of the west remained wild and unexplored. • In 1826, the American Temperance Society was founded, giving a voice to those who were intolerant of alcohol consumption of any sort. • In 1828, Andrew Jackson, a man known for his efforts to displace many native American tribes, causing their widespread starvation and death, was elected president.
Historical Context • New arrivals to the country, however, were uplifted by America’s perceived spirit of Romanticism and humanitarianism. • Irving embraced this feeling of Romanticism in fiction, writing long, descriptive passages about landscapes and relating the stories of hardworking immigrants who carved out a good living for their families.
Historical Context • In the North, these ideas came to include the belief that slavery was immoral, and tension between the North and South over this and other issues began to rise. • Much of the literature of this period, like the novels of James Fennimore Cooper, were romantic tales of adventures of common men, often concluding with strong morals outlining Puritan ideals of good and evil. • “The Devil and Tom Walker,” in which Tom Walker, a corrupt individual who gets his come-uppance at the hands of the devil, typifies the literature of this era.
The Devil and Tom Walker - Style • Point of View • Narrated by Geoffrey Crayon, a fictional character created by Irving. • The first person narration adds to the feeling the reader has of being told a story in the oral tradition. • Allegory • Many folktales are allegories • In allegories, characters and actions are symbolic of larger conditions of human nature. • The character of Old Scratch personifies evil or temptation. • Tom Walker, an unscrupulous money-lender, makes a pact with the devil and only later professes religious beliefs. • Through these actions, Tom represents hypocrisy, which Irving shows will be punished. • Setting • Set in New England area near Boston in the early eighteenth century
The Devil and Tom Walker: Themes • Greed • Greed is one of the most important themes of “The Devil and Tom Walker.” • Hypocrisy is evident throughout. • Moral Corruption: Though Tom Walker is presented as an individual who has always been morally corrupt, the action of “The Devil and Tom Walker” presents how moral corruption breeds more moral corruption, escalating to the greatest corruption of all, a pact with the devil.
Vocabulary • prevalent: adj.; widely existing; frequent • stagnant: adj.; not flowing or moving • precarious: adj.; uncertain; insecure; risky • impregnable: adj.; impossible to capture or enter by force. • melancholy: adj.; sad; gloomy • obliterate: v.; erase or destroy • avarice: n.; greed • resolute: adj.; determined; resolved; unwavering • parsimony: n.; stinginess • superfluous: adj.; more than is needed or wanted; useless
The Devil and Tom Walker • Mood • The overall feeling or atmosphere of a story, play or poem. • Mood is intangible. • To identify the mood, focus on the setting, paying close attention to the details of time and place. • How does the setting make you feel? • Look carefully at writer’s word choice: Is a tree budding or rotting? • Consider the plot: Does it end happily, or does it present a bitter or tragic outlook on life?
Mood • The mood of most stories can be identifies with one or two adjectives: gloomy, romantic, threatening, etc. • Even though you may sense several moods in some stories, one dominant feeling (humor in the midst of horror, for example) will usually prevail.