Satire in the Devil and Tom Walker


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Crayon begins the story. He tells us that, years ago, a few miles from Boston, Massachusetts, Kidd the Pirate buried a great amount of treasure. He made a deal with the devil to protect the treasure but was never able to return to it, as he was captured and taken to England to be hanged as a pirate. Much later, in the year 1727, a miserly man named Tom Walker lives near the aura with his wife, who is equally as money-crazed. They are not popular with their neighbors, as they often fight.

After spending the day in a distant part of the neighborhood, Tom Walker takes a shortcut back home through a swamp. He reaches an abandoned Indian fort, and after kicking a nearby skull left over from the Indian wars with colonists, angers a tall man covered in soot who had apparently been watching him. Tom realizes that this is the man commonly called Old Scratch, and after a long conversation on the way home, Old Scratch announces that he has taken a liking to Tom and will allow him to acquire Kidd the Pirate’s treasure on certain conditions. As a promise to stand by his word, Old Scratch presses his finger into Tom’s forehead, leaving a black, burned mark that he calls his ‘signature.’

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Tom can’t help but share the secret with his wife, who is immediately enticed by the promise of gold; only to contradict her, however, Tom tells her he is planning to repudiate the deal. Determined to aggrandize herself, she takes all the valuables in their house as bribes for Old Scratch and sets off to find him. She never returns.

Tom sets out to find both his wife and the valuables she disappeared with, and instead finds her heart and liver tied up to a tree in her checked apron. Tom is more upset by the loss of the valuables than the loss of his wife; in fact, he uses the latter as consolation and acknowledges that Old Scratch has actually done him a service by getting rid of her.

Finally, Tom decides he wants the treasure he was promised, and he sets out to find Old Scratch once again. The two haggle for a while, and Old Scratch insists that if he is to give Tom the money, Tom must use it in service to the devil. He first suggests Tom should fit out a slave ship, but Tom outright refuses to be turned into a slave trader. Then he proposes that Tom become a usurer or corrupted money-loaner; this is right up Tom’s alley, so he agrees.

Tom takes the money and sets up as a usurer in Boston, becoming popular with adventurers, speculators, and merchants looking to borrow money to begin their ventures. He loans to them and then soaks them dry with his interests rates, and builds with his wealth a lavish house for himself (but doesn’t finish or furnish it, due to his propensity and stingy old self). As he grows older, though, he worries that the bargain he made with Old Scratch will result in being damned in the afterlife, so he becomes a religious zealot, attending church and praying to get back in the good graces of God.

But it is too late for redemption. When a poor land-jobber visits Tom and asks him to please give him more time to pay off his loan before foreclosing his mortgage, Tom refuses. The man says that Tom has made so much money off him already, and when Tom says ‘the devil take me if I have made a farthing!’ a black man on a black horse knocks on his door, come to take him away. Tom Walker is gone for good, and when trustees go to claim his assets, they find that all his possessions, including his house, have gone up in flames.

Throughout the story, Irving used a lot of imagery to stimulate the reader’s senses such as at the beginning of the story “A few miles from Boston in Massachusetts, there is a deep inlet, winding several miles into the interior of the country from Charles Bay, and terminating in a thickly wooded swamp or morass. On one side of this inlet is a beautiful dark grove; on the opposite side the land rises abruptly from the water’s edge into a high ridge, on which grow a few scattered oaks of great age and immense size.” In this paragraph, Irving used the sense of sight by saying “thickly wooded swamp or morass”. He also said, “Tom had long been picking his way cautiously through this treacherous forest; stepping from tuft to tuft of rushes and roots which afforded precarious footholds among deep sloughs; or pacing carefully, like a cat, along the prostrate trunks of trees; startled now and then by the sudden screaming of the bittern, or the quacking of a wild duck, rising on the wing from some solitary pool.” Stimulating both senses of sight by saying “forest” and the sense of sound by saying “stepping from tuft to tuft”.

The Devil and Tom Walker are first and foremost a satirical account of the perils of greed, and in this section, Tom pays the price for his greed that never ended. This satire is very relevant to the time period in which Irving blazoned this story, as the early 1800s were a time of constant land expansion and industrial growth. American landowners and businesspeople consistently coveted more even though they already had plenty, just like Tom Walker does in this story. In this final section of the story, Irving satirizes not only greed but also religious devotion for the wrong reasons. People, Tom Walker a shining example, often wrongfully precepted that outward displays of piety are enough to atone for hidden lives full of sin, and Irving clearly believes that this is not the case. Tom Walker is the ultimate hypocrite in this section, praying and carrying around a Bible yet still seeking to filch the wealth of others. In the end, Tom’s false front of religious zeal is not enough to save him from the fate that he sealed for himself as soon as he accepted the devil’s bargain.

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