'The Devil and Tom Walker' Discussion Questions

Devil
Devil. Devil

 

1824The Devil and Tom Walker" is a short story by Washington Irving written in 1824. It is the story of a man who is tempted by the Devil, who goes by the name of Old Scratch. Like most of Irving's stories, the tale is set in New England. It opens with a story about Captain Kidd, the pirate, hiding stolen money. He dies before he is able to reclaim the money but the devil continues to protect it for him.

When the miserly Tom Walker meets a man claiming to be the devil in the swamp he's offered the chance to trade his soul for the pirate's protected treasure. The story has been compared to the Germanic Faust tales by various famous authors which follow a similar theme of protagonist making deals with the devil. Take a look at these questions for study and discussion.

Study Guide

  • What is important about the title? Had you ever heard the phrase before reading the story?
     
  • What are the conflicts in "The Devil and Tom Walker"? What types of conflict (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional) do you see?
  • 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?
  • How does greed factor into this story? Do you think the Walker families financial situation plays a factor in their choices? 
     
  • 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."
  • How are women portrayed in this story? Is it positive or negative? 
     
  • Compare "The Devil and Tom Walker" with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
     
  • Does the story end the way you expected? How? Why? How did you feel about the ending? Was it fair? Why or why not?
     
  • 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?
  • How do you think Irving's Christian beliefs impacted his writing? 
  • What would you trade your soul for?
  • Do you think Tom and his wife made the right choice?
     
  • Overview
  • Characters
  • Major Events
  • Quotes / Quotations
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  • Questions for Study & Discussion
  • Text - The Devil and Tom Walker
  • Washington Irving - Profile