Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Washington Irving's The Devil and Tom Walker. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
- Full Title: “The Devil and Tom Walker”
- Where Written: Europe
- When Published: 1824, in Irving’s collection of short stories titled Tales of a Traveller
- Literary Period: American Romanticism
- Genre: Short story; morality tale
- Setting: In and around Boston, Massachusetts
- Climax: Old Scratch whisks Tom Walker onto the back of a black horse, which gallops away with Tom to his damnation
- Antagonist: Greed; Old Scratch
- Point of View: Third-person omniscient
My Name is Legion. In New England, the devil was indeed known as Old Scratch, a name quite likely imported by German and/or Dutch immigrants. After all, the word “Scratch” derives in part from the Old High German words scrato and skraz, both of which refer to a satyr or wood-demon, which also relates, of course, to Old Scratch’s profession as a woodsman, or lumberjack.
More to the Story. Can’t get enough of “The Devil and Tom Walker?” In the story that immediately precedes Tom’s in Tales of a Traveler, Irving tells all about Captain Kidd, whose long-buried treasure Tom sells his soul for. Kidd’s story concludes with the account of how a party of burghers, or wealthy citizens, are sporting one day off the coast of “the island of Manhata” (present-day Manhattan Island in New York), when an alderman among them dredges up an old rusted pistol “of very curious and outlandish fashion.” One of the burghers has this to say: “‘Egad if this pistol had belonged to him [Captain Kidd] I should set some store by it out of sheer curiosity. Ah, well, there’s an odd story I have heard about one Tom Walker, who, they say, dug up some of Kidd’s buried money; and as the fish don’t seem to bite at present, I’ll tell it to you to pass away time.’” And it is with Tom’s tale thusly framed that Irving proceeds to tell it.