Human Intent and the Aftermath of It
Washington Irving, in writing "The Devil and Tom Walker", and Stephen Vincent
Benet, in writing "The Devil and Daniel Webster" illustrate to the reader the
consequences of man\'s desire for material wealth and how a person\'s motivation for a
relationship with the devil affects the outcome of the "deal". In these two different, yet
surprisingly similar narratives, the authors present their beliefs about human intent and
motive.
In "The Devil and Tom Walker", the story is seen of a stingy man and his nagging
wife who "...were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other" (128). In the
story, one sees a man make a deal with the devil, who in the story is known as "Old
Scratch", for the sole purpose of personal gain. Tom Walker, seeing only the possible
wealth that he could achieve, bargains with the devil and finally reaches an agreement
which he sees to be fair. Tom does not see the danger present in bargaining with such
a powerful force for so little gain. There is a note of humor present in the narrative,
which adds to the sense of danger that is present making deals that one does not
intend to keep. Commenting on the story, Larry L. Stevens notes that "This tale,...,
comically presents the results of valuing the dollar above all else." This story does a
very good job of conveying a message to the reader about human values.
In the story Tom is seen as a very self-centered man who cares only for himself and
his own well being. He is not even phased when he discovers the remains of his wife
hanging in a apron in a tree; "Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property with the
loss of his wife" (132). Tom is portrayed in the story as being typical of many of the
citizens who lived in the town, many of who\'s names Old Scratch had carved into the
bark of a tree near the Indian Fort. When the devil shows Tom a tree for a greedy
townsperson, he fails to see that he is very much like that tree when he "looked in the
direction that the stranger pointed and beheld one of the great trees, fair and
flourishing without, but rotten at the core" (130).
As time passes after Tom has made his deal with the devil, and he is working as a
usurer in Boston, squeezing every last cent out of the unlucky speculators that walked
through his door, Tom begins to wonder whether he made the right choice when he
dealt with Old Scratch: "He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his
black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions" (134). Tom\'s
decision to attempt to cheat the devil becomes his downfall. Tom now begins a routine
of attending a Church service and praying loudly for everyone to hear, and he outfits
himself with two Bibles which he thinks will protect him to the end. In a great irony
Irving tells of how Tom will put down his Bible for a few minutes while he forecloses a
mortgage of some poor borrower, and the resumes his reading when he is finished.
Stevens recognized this irony and noted that "Irving has a keen eye for the ironies and
contradictions of human behavior." Irving presents the reader with the difficulty that
can arise when intentions are based solely on personal gain. In the story, one sees
how Tom Walker\'s actions contradict each other in their meaning and purpose. It is
seen in the story how Tom walker would show his devotion to the Church and to God,
when he was truly only trying to protect himself from when the devil came to collect
what was due. Stevens summarized Tom\'s actions by noting that "...the tale clearly
satirizes those who make a public show of devotion while retaining meanness of spirit".
Irving does a very good job of demonstrating the ill consequences that can and most
likely will be a result of man\'s lack of caring, and possibly ignorance. Had Tom Walker
thought upon the deal more thoroughly, instead of jumping right into it, he most likely
would not have suffered the terrible outcome of the deal. If he had realized that the
wealth that he would achieve would be useless to him in the end, he would probably be
living in his old house, unhappy and without a wife, but at least