"They lived in a forlorn-looking house that stood alone and had an air of starvation. A few straggling savin-trees, emblems of sterility, grew near it; no smoke ever curled from its chimney; no traveller stopped at its door."
This quote not only characterizes the setting around Tom Walker and his wife's house; it also characterizes Tom Walker and his wife themselves. Adjectives like "forlorn" and "straggling," as well as phrases like "emblems of sterility," paint a picture for readers of the kind of life these two characters are living and the relationship they have with each other. Imagery like this sets the tone of the story and prompts distaste for Tom Walker's character right from the start.
"Any one but he would have felt unwilling to linger in this lonely, melancholy place, for the common people had a bad opinion of it, from the stories handed down from the times of the Indian wars, when it was asserted that the savages held incantations here and made sacrifices to the Evil Spirit."
This quote foreshadows the presence of Old Scratch at the site of the old Indian fort. Tom Walker knows the rumors about the sacrifices made here to the devil, but he chooses not to harbor any fears about it. Because Tom does not have a healthy respect and fear for the devil and his evil doings, he falls victim to Old Scratch's manipulation.
"It is true he was dressed in a rude Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body; but his face was neither black nor copper-color, but swarthy and dingy, and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges. He had a shock of coarse black hair, that stood out from his head in all directions, and bore an axe on his shoulder."
This quote provides a description of Washington Irving's portrayal of the devil incarnate. Though at this point the story does not come right out and call Old Scratch the devil, there are some definite hints in this description that clue readers into this fact, notably the phrase "as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges." Note that he is dark-skinned, not white; this says a lot about racial perceptions during this time period.
""Deacon Peabody be damned," said the stranger, "as I flatter myself he will be, if he does not look more to his own sins and less to those of his neighbors.""
Here, Old Scratch condemns Deacon Peabody for being blind to his own sins and focusing too much on the sins of others. The story suggests that much of the church—particularly the Puritans, who he took many issues with—is hypocritical in this way. According to Old Scratch, Deacon Peabody's hypocrisy will land him a one-way ticket to hell if he doesn't change his ways.
"Since the red men have been exterminated by you white savages, I amuse myself by presiding at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists; I am the great patron and prompter of slave-dealers and the grand-master of the Salem witches."
This is when Old Scratch finally reveals who he truly is, and Tom finally realizes with whom he's dealing. The devil is incarnated here to punish those who persecute others, and to represent those who were persecuted and gain them revenge. Old Scratch clearly believes in an eye-for-an-eye philosophy; the white men who exterminated the Indians and hunted down the Salem witches will get exactly what they deserve, according to him.
"Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property, with the loss of his wife, for he was a man of fortitude. He even felt something like gratitude toward the black woodsman, who, he considered, had done him a kindness."
This quote is one of the many that reveal Tom's distorted values; he places his material property above his wife time and time again; in fact, he loathes his wife so much that he believes that Old Scratch has done him a favor by killing her. This lack of value for a human life—even that of a person he doesn't particularly care for—shows that Tom is moving further and further down the road of moral decay.
"He proposed, therefore, that Tom should employ it in the black traffic; that is to say, that he should fit out a slave-ship. This, however, Tom resolutely refused; he was bad enough in all conscience, but the devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave-trader."
This is yet another example of Tom's hypocrisy; he claims his conscience could not allow him to become a slave trader, and yet he has already displayed his lack of a moral compass time and time again. Just after this, he agrees to become a usurer and extort money from desperate people, which certainly doesn't say much for his morality. Based on his actions, Tom cannot truly claim that choosing not to become a slave trader has anything to do with his conscience.
"He built himself, as usual, a vast house, out of ostentation, but left the greater part of it unfinished and unfurnished, out of parsimony. He even set up a carriage in the fulness of his vain-glory, though he nearly starved the horses which drew it; and, as the ungreased wheels groaned and screeched on the axle-trees, you would have thought you heard the souls of the poor debtors he was squeezing."
This quote is proof that Tom's parsimony from the beginning of the story was not simply because of his lack of wealth; now, even with more money than he knows what to do with, he still behaves frugally. By building a lavish house for himself, Tom displays his riches outwardly so that everyone can see. Inside, though, there is no furniture, which proves that he is still his same stingy self.
"The quiet Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly travelling Zionward were struck with self-reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by this new-made convert."
This quote displays author Irving's distaste for those hypocrites who use religion as an means of pretending outwardly to be a good person, but then continue their sinful practices. Tom believes that simply by carrying around a Bible, attending Church, and praying, he can cheat his fate, but this is not the case; only the "quiet Christians" mentioned in this quote will have true salvation.
"The devil take me if I have made a farthing!"
These are Tom's last words before he is carried off to hell on the back of a black horse. He is lying, of course; he has made plenty of money off of the poor land-jobber he is speaking to when he gets carried away. This is the moment when Tom Walker truly becomes just as bad as the devil himself; he's a liar, a cheat, a miser, and a man who has lost his moral completely. At this moment, there is no chance of redemption for Tom, and with these words, he himself calls the devil to come take him.
The Devil and Tom Walker Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Devil and Tom Walker is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Kidd was a famous pirate who buried his treasure in the Charles River Bay. Kidd made a deal with the devil to protect his bounty, but never returned for it; instead, it remained undisturbed until the devil offers it to Tom Walker much later.