Washington Irving

(1783-1859)

irvingbrady[1].jpg“The Devil and Tom Walker” is a short story about a man who sold his soul to the devil, in order to become wealthy. This man’s name was Tom Walker who lived in a run-down house with his wife. Tom and his wife were not known to be the happiest couple and were spotted fighting with each other - verbally and physically. Tom’s wife stole valuables from others and hid things from her husband. They both loved money, and would do whatever it took to obtain wealth. One day Tom was walking, when he decided to take a short cut. The short cut was through a swampy, gloomy, forest. The forest was dark and spooky, with noises of animals lurking around him. After a while, Tom arrived at a peninsula, with the swamp surrounding the piece of land on three of its sides. He realized, that this was where the Indians built a fort during their wars. As Tom looked around, he heard a voice telling him to leave. This voice startled Tom and forced him to turn around. Tom realized that the voice he heard belonged to a man referred to as Old Scratch – who is the devil. Old Scratch told Tom about a proposition that would make Tom rich. He told him that he would give him the treasure, buried in the forest by a pirate named Kidd. Tom, usually quick to jump at the opportunity to obtain money, proceeded with caution and decided to go home and think about the proposition. Perplexed by the offer, Tom decided to tell his wife. Being the greedy person that she was, she decided to go to the forest and claim the treasure for herself. Days passed and Tom’s wife still hadn’t returned home. Tom decided to go search for his wife in the forest, only to find remains of his wife, and stories about her death. Tom almost found relief in the death of his wife, and went to the forest to take up Old Scratch’s offer- selling his soul to the devil. Old Scratch told Tom he was to start a loan business and charge everyone a high interest, causing people to go into debt. After wiping people out of their money for so long, Tom started to feel guilty and became a zealous churchgoer. Tom became terrified of what the devil was going to do to him for going to church. One day Tom lost his patience with one of his loaners and said, “The devil take me if I have made a farthing!” At that exact moment, the devil arrived on a horse and took Tom away, and he was never seen again. After Tom was taken by the devil, every thing he owned was turned into meaningless pieces of scrap. In the end, Tom had sold his soul to the devil and ended up losing every thing he had, in attempt to retrieve the pleasure of wealth.

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 towards the black woodsman, who he considered had done him a kindness. […]

Tom found his wife dead and realized he was more relieved than he was sad. Normally when loved ones die, the family grieves and is upset. There are people that don’t feel the way society thinks one should feel in certain situations. In Tom’s case, he was not grief-stricken when he found out that his wife was dead when most people would think he would be. There are people who are also pulled into two directions – not knowing which feeling to listen to. Others expect you to feel one way, when you feel the opposite. Although they were supposed to love each other, Tom and his wife loved money, more than each other. Many people marry for the wrong reasons and don’t really love their partner. In addition, money controls a lot of people and alters their lives. In Tom’s case, money took over both his wife’s life and his. In the end, both lost their lives and each other. Today, there are people, like Tom and his wife, who would go to any extent to obtain money resulting in severe consequences. A saying used today that relates to this story is, “ They sold their soul to the devil.” Two examples of people who go to an extreme to earn money are drug dealers and prostitutes. Many people today would say, “ They are selling their souls to the devil,” which is similar to what Tom did in this story.


As Tom waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret on the bargain he made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent churchgoer. […]

After Tom stole money from so many people, he began to realize what he was doing was wrong. He decides to change his ways and repent for his sins, becoming an avid churchgoer. Many people today, like Tom, realize that what they are doing is wrong and try to change their ways. For example, people that have committed crimes realize that what did they did was wrong and turn to God for redemption. But also like Tom, they have dug themselves too deep into a hole to climb out. Tom sinned for too long and treated people poorly, stealing their money, and was punished for his wrongdoing. Many people who have committed crimes, are punished by being thrown into jail and can’t leave, even after learning from their mistakes.


[…] There was nothing, however, to administer upon. On searching his coffers all his bonds and mortgages were found reduced to cinders. In place of golf and silver his iron chest was filled with chips and shavings; two skeletons lay in his stable instead of his half starved horses, and the very next day his great house tool fire and was burnt to the ground.


In effort to become wealthy, Tom lost everything that was important to him – his possessions and valuables. Everything Tom worked so hard for just disappeared in front of him. He sold his soul to the devil in order to gain wealth, and ended up losing his money, his soul, and finally his life. Many people today work too hard for the wrong reasons and end up losing money, friends, and everything that is important to them. This story relates to Ben Franklin’s essay, “The Whistle,” because both literary works deal with the issue of greed and money. In Ben’s essay, he talks about people who spend to much time and effort trying to procure non important wants in life, to which he refers to as whistles. In this story, Tom pays too much for his whistle, and his case, his whistle is wealth. Tom, like the people Ben talked about in his essay, suffered great evil from paying too much for his whistle.

I found this story very relatable to today, even though it was written in the 1800’s. No matter what decade we’re in, this story will be relatable because of its theme. “The Devil and Tom Walker” is about the affect of greed on people. There will always be greedy people in the world that will go to any extent to become wealthy. I feel the message portrayed in this story was very evident and effective. It makes one think about what happened to Tom, and how money can have a very harmful affect people. In a way, when I read the story, I felt as though Tom and his wife deserved what happened to them. From the description of Tom’s wife in the beginning of the story, I felt as though she deserved to have been killed. She was an ignominious person who didn’t care about her husband, and stole from others. She was so greedy that she left her husband and went to collect the riches for herself. It was said that she would verbally and physically abuse Tom, and was a loud, fierce-tempered woman. On the same note, Tom was also not a good person. He also didn’t care about his wife and was said to fight with her. Overall, I feel as though this story did a great job of depicting the affects of greed and wealth, while relating to the reader and real life struggles.