The Devil and Tom Walker Study Guide

Washington Irving
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Washington Irving published "The Devil and Tom Walker" in 1824 as part of his short story collection, "Tales of a Traveller." The story has been compared to the classic story of Faust, a scholar who makes a deal with the devil. It was also the inspiration for the Steven Vincent Benet short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster." The story is a cautionary tale meant to show the evils of predatory loans and greed.

In the story, Tom sells his soul to "Old Scratch" in exchange for wealth. After his monetary wishes come true, Tom becomes very religious, but even that can't save him. The devil always gets his due. Religious hypocrisy and greed are the two largest themes in the story./p>

Main Characters

Tom Walker: The protagonist of "The Devil and Tom Walker." He is described as "a meager miserly fellow." Tom's defining characteristic is his self-destructive greed. His only joy comes from owning things. He trades his soul to the devil for some pirates gold but grows to regret his decision. He becomes very religious at the end of the story, but his faith is hypocritical.

Tom's wife: Described as "a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm. Her voice was often heard in wordy warfare with her husband, and his face sometimes showed signs that their conflicts were not confined to words." She is abusive towards her husband and is arguably even greedier than her husband.

Old Scratch: Irving chose to describe his version of Satan as having a  "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."


"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."

Major Events

Old Indian Fort

  • Tom Walker meets Old Scratch
  • Old Scratch offers Tom Walker great sums of money in exchange for "certain conditions."
  • Tom's wife confronts Old Scratch.
  • Tom Walker agrees to the Old Scratch's "conditions" with some obstinance.


  • Tom Walker opens a broker's office in Boston.

Questions for Writing, Thinking, and Discussing

  • What is important about the title?
  • What are the conflicts in "The Devil and Tom Walker." What types of conflict (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional)?
  • How does Irving reveal character in "The Devil and Tom Walker."
  • Who was Faust (in literary history)? How could Tom Walker be said to have made a Faustian bargain?
  • What are some themes in the story? How do they relate to the plot and characters?
  • Compare/Contrast Tom Walker with Scrooge (in "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens)
  • Is Tom Walker consistent in his actions? Is he a fully developed character? How? Why?
  • Do you find the characters likable? Are the characters persons you would want to meet?
  • Discuss some of the symbols in "The Devil and Tom Walker."
  • Compare "The Devil and Tom Walker" with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
  • Does the story end the way you expected? How? Why?
  • What is the central/primary purpose of the story? Is the purpose important or meaningful?
  • How essential is the setting to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?
  • What supernatural or surprising events are employed by Washington Irving? Are these happenings believable