The Mystery in “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving

The Devil and Tom Walker

The written works of the romanticist Washington Irving were very important for the development of the American literature and critical realism. When it comes to the literature of American romanticism, his name is called one of the first. He rightly considered as the founder of American fiction, the father of an American novel. W. Irving was the first American novelist to have won the European fame. This is the first romantic of American literature who was an honor to win the international recognition. An American romanticism tended to use fiction as a means of artistic knowledge. Along with numerous borrowings from mythology, folklore, and religion, the romantic fiction includes new images. They all are united by the internal duality, often grotesque, and the most fantastic forms even ironic understanding. The events of a double motivation offer to the reader finally decide whether the main character used the devil or whether he became a victim of some incredible coincidences. Later this method was called a veiled fiction. This technique was used in the Washington Irving books.

His collection of essays “Tales of a Traveler” includes the fantastic and religious parable “The Devil and Tom Walker”. The summary of the short story, appeared in 1727, is the following. “A meager miserly fellow”, named Tom Walker, lived with his wife in a dilapidated house near Boston, and all they had was only one miserable skinny horse. His wife was even more penny-pinching, but she was not very grumpy and rude. One late evening, when returning home, Tom reached the old Indian fortification, where he met a broad-shouldered black man. That strange man said that those lands were in his possessions, especially since the names of respectable inhabitants of those places were carved on many trees of the area. And the most interesting thing is that those trunks that were already piled up necessarily belonged to the deceased. In general, this stranger was someone who called sometimes a wild hunter, a black miner, or a black lumberjack in different countries. He introduced himself as Old Scratch, the protector and defender of the dead, the great master of the Salem witch trials. The devil chose for himself a little place in the swamp near an old Indian fortification, where the Indians, according to legends, made sacrifices and arranged their magical covenants. The man told Tom about the treasures buried by the pirate Kidd under the oaks and offered him to take them. When Tom Walker returned home and told about everything he had seen and heard, his wife decided to go to the swamps to look for that black man. So, Tom Walker lost his wife, who tried to find the stranger. And after some time, Tom Walker met again Old Scratch and agreed to all his conditions. After that, he afforded to open a shop in Boston and became a rich and influential man after several years.

But he used to think about his future more and more. Remembering the deal with the black man, he started to often visit the church, to pray loudly and passionately, and he never parted with the Bible, hoping to protect himself from the devil this way. But, despite all precautions, one day a black man stormed into Tom Walker’s office, seized the man by the collar, threw him on the saddle and took him away. All the money, bills and mortgages, stored in the chests of the rich man, turned into ashes. This story became the talk of the town and widespread in New England: “The Devil and Tom Walker”, people used to say.

The story about the agreement between a man and the devil, under the feather of Irving, began to play with new colors and was filled with some traits of New England. Interesting is the image of the devil as a Black Woodsman. The attempts of the Walker’s wily wife to establish contacts with the devil are depicted a masterfully. As always in Irving’s writings, the mystical story successfully combines with the description of the realities of New England and with the condemnation of the rich. Again, it is to note the colorful and imaginative language with which this story is written.

Irving’s “dirty places” are often a repository of inaccessible, but so desirable treasures, that combine a dream of paradise (wealth, freedom) with the fear of dependence from the devil. The American Irish pragmatism certainly coexists with an eerie mystery, almost mysticism. The peculiarity of Irving the romantic was reflected in the fact that he created in his works a special world, unlike the reality surrounding him. He had a subtle gift to bring poetic in the everyday life, throwing at her a delicate flair of the mystery and fairy tale. Making the analysis of “The Devil and Tom Walker”, it is to stress the softened tones, light irony, and subtle symbolic halftones, which define the poetic manner of W. Irving. Therefore, the language of “The Devil and Tom Walker” cannot be transferred by Sparknotes. The author doesn’t give sharp contrasts between “beautiful” and “ugly”, “good” and “evil,” an ideal myth and a rude reality. Everything is naturally intertwined and coordinated, creating a special kind of the pure Irving idyll.

The story is ironic and at the same time bewitching. It seems to be simple, but the mastery of the author gives it new colors and shine. The Black Woodsman appears as a creature with understandable, clear concepts of his role in the world of people, such a merchant without fear and reproach. The image of Tom Walker is a sort of collective character who wants wealth and fame, but he does not know what to do with them eventually. It is worth paying attention to some points topicality inherent in this work. The devil does not tell Tom Walker the location of any pirate treasure and does not help him marry a rich widow. No, Tom had to become a pawnbroker, confuse the most unfortunate and needing people to the net of bills and loans and to dig a hole for those who are already in a difficult situation. Irving describes masterfully how the poor and idler Walker turns into a loathsome squirrel, mocking the poor, and falls into bigotry in his old age, trying to avoid the consequences of the once concluded deal with the devil. What to do, now there are a lot of people around who are ready to sell their soul to the devil in the same terms as Tom Walker did.