The Devil and Tom Walker

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The earthly owner of the swamp where Tom Walker meets Old Scratch, Deacon Peabody is more truly the devil’s property himself, hypocritically scrutinizing his neighbors’ sins and overlooking his own as he does. Old Scratch points out a tree in the swamp into which Peabody’s name is carved: like Peabody himself, it is thriving on the outside (Peabody made his riches trading shrewdly with the Native Americans) but rotten on the inside.

Deacon Peabody Quotes in The Devil and Tom Walker

The The Devil and Tom Walker quotes below are all either spoken by Deacon Peabody or refer to Deacon Peabody. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Greed Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Devil and Tom Walker published in 2008.
“The Devil and Tom Walker” Quotes
Tom looked in the direction that the stranger pointed, and beheld one of the great trees, fair and flourishing without, but rotten at the core, and saw that it had been nearly hewn through, so that the first high wind was likely to blow it down. On the bark of the tree was scored the name of Deacon Peabody, an eminent man, who had waxed wealthy by driving shrewd bargains with the Indians.
Related Characters: Tom Walker, Old Scratch, Deacon Peabody
Related Symbols: Old Scratch’s Swamp
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

In Irving's short story, the devil is imagined as a woodsman who cuts down living sinners like trees and feeds them into the fires of hell. Here, we see Tom looking at a tree that represents Deacon Peabody. It is "fair and flourishing without, but rotten at the core," which symbolizes how the Deacon's public image as a successful religious man contrasts with his interior moral rot, which he revealed by making his fortunes exploiting the local Native Americans. Not only has Deacon Peabody been greedy, but he has also been a hypocrite, pretending to be a man of God while actually tending his relationship with Old Scratch. It is ironic that such a man has gained social prominence in Tom's world.

The fact that the tree might be blown down by the "first high wind" is telling - Deacon Peabody's time on earth is nearly over, and his soul will soon be ready to feed into the fires of hell. 


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Deacon Peabody Character Timeline in The Devil and Tom Walker

The timeline below shows where the character Deacon Peabody appears in The Devil and Tom Walker. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
“The Devil and Tom Walker”
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...his grounds; Tom retorts that the swamp belongs not to the black man but to Deacon Peabody . The black man says that the Deacon will be damned if he doesn’t look... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Tom asks the black man what right he has to burn Deacon Peabody ’s timber. “‘Prior claim,’” the black man responds. He tells Tom that he is known... (full context)