The Devil and Tom Walker

Through statements he makes about Tom Walker, his wife, and his community, what message is irving communicating about?

women(31-37) Puritan attitude(31-37) Slave Trade(224-227) Money Lenders(228-230)
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As the U.S. was still a new and growing country at the time of this short story's publication, a new American identity was only just beginning to develop as different cultural groups came together as one in the young nation. In Massachusetts in particular, where "The Devil and Tom Walker" takes place, Puritanical ideals still had a large influence, so just like many others of his time period Irving included an exploration of Puritanical good versus evil in this story. This is also a story about the adventures of a common man, which was typical of this time period as well, since the common man played such an important role in the development of an American identity. Though this story was written in 1824, the events take place nearly one hundred years earlier, around the year 1727.

This short story exemplifies potent themes of greed, good and evil, and choices and decisions that can change a man in ways he may not expect. These messages were all extremely important to relay in fledgling America, since, as the nation grew more commercial, common men were often faced with temptations similar to those Tom faces.

There is a reference to Irving's attitude towards Puritans, the primary settlers of the Charles Bay during this time period, hidden in Old Scratch's introduction. Irving clearly condemns their intolerance, as evidenced by Old Scratch, the devil, announcing that he presides at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists and is the patron of the Indians who were once persecuted by the Puritans as well. Much of Irving's work reflects a similar attitude toward this religious group, and this text is one of his most prominent satires of their viewpoints.

As for women, they often weren't valued as they are today. Marriages were arranged and often took place for convenience. The disappearance serves as a test for Tom, which he fails with flying colors. He's more concerned with the loss of his property (the valuables she took to trade to Old Scratch) than with the loss of his wife—regardless of their poor relationship, it displays Tom's lack of human empathy overall, which ultimately leads to his downfall. Even after he sees that she's been killed, he chooses to go through with the bargain. Tom is more concerned with material wealth than with any person, even the one to whom he is married.

Irving does a great job comminicating his dislike for the slave trade. Tom's limited sense of morality makes an appearance in his outright refusal to become a slave trader. It is ironic in light of his lack of conscience in all other respects, but it serves as a reference point; further on in the story when he deteriorates even more, readers can look back at the man who refused to be a slave trader because of his conscience and realize that after this moment, he passed the point of no return.

Irving takes a dim view of money lenders. Tom develops a reputation as a man quite willing to lend money to those in need, which earns him popularity because during the time of a former governor, Governor Belcher, money had been scarce and paper credit was the norm. Hard times had followed.

Now, though, adventurers, land-jobbers, speculators, merchants, and all sorts of people come to borrow money from Tom to begin new endeavors. Tom would eventually squeeze them dry with interests rates, bonds, and mortgages, and acquired even more wealth for himself. He builds himself a vast house with his earnings, but because he is still frugal, he does not furnish it. He sets himself up a carriage, but nearly starves the horses that pull it.