The Devil and Tom Walker

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Also called the Wild Huntsman, the Black Miner, and, in New England, the Black Woodsman, Old Scratch is the devil himself, pure black as if covered in soot and with a shock of coarse black hair. It is said he guards Captain Kidd’s treasure, for he guards all treasure, especially that which is acquired immorally. He claims to own the swamp near which Tom Walker and his wife live, where Tom meets him one evening surrounded by trees into which are carved the names of the living damned, soon to die and serve as fuel for hell’s fire. Old Scratch is a cunning devil who knows when he’s got people right where he wants them, and he drives a hard bargain. His ideal world seems to be one filled to a large extent by slave traders, but usurers will also do in a pinch. By story’s end, Old Scratch wins the souls of Absalom Crowninshield, Tom’s wife, and Tom himself.

Old Scratch Quotes in The Devil and Tom Walker

The The Devil and Tom Walker quotes below are all either spoken by Old Scratch or refer to Old Scratch. 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

The devil presided at the hiding of [Captain Kidd’s] money, and took it under his guardianship; but this, it is well known, he always does with buried treasure, particularly when it has been ill-gotten.

Related Characters: Old Scratch, Captain Kidd
Related Symbols: Old Scratch’s Swamp
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

The short story opens with a description of Old Scratch's Swamp (Old Scratch is what Tom calls the Devil later on). Here we learn that this swamp is the hiding place for Captain Kidd's gold. This description reveals the themes of secrecy, trickery, and greed that the story will go on to explore. 

Old Scratch guards the gold so that he can use it to tempt greedy souls like Tom and his wife to sin. In this way, he himself is an usurer (someone who lends money, often at high interest) just like Tom Walker - he offers people gold to tempt them into bankrupting their souls.

Captain Kidd is representative of all of the greedy characters in the story. Their efforts to accumulate money serve only to ruin them in the end, because, as we know from this quote, all "ill-gotten" treasure eventually ends up back under the Devil's guardianship. 

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His face was neither black nor copper-color, but was swarthy and dingy, and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fire and forges. He had a shock of coarse black hair, that stood out from his head in all directions; and bore an axe on his shoulder.

Related Characters: Old Scratch
Related Symbols: Old Scratch’s Swamp
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage describes Old Scratch's first appearance, which surprises Tom utterly. He is described as a "black man," but here Tom thinks with confusion that his skin's dark color does not appear to be natural. Instead, it looks as if he has been "begrimed with soot" from a life spent toiling "among fire and forges." This last image evokes the fires of hell, Old Scratch's true home. The chaos of his hair and the axe on his shoulder further Old Scratch's embodiment of sin and danger. The axe is for cutting down trees and, metaphorically, men—as he will soon cut down Tom Walker. 

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. 

“I am he to whom the red men consecrated this spot, and in honor of whom they now and then roasted a white man, by way of sweet-smelling sacrifice. Since the red men have been exterminated by you white savages, I amuse myself by presiding at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists! I am the great patron and prompter of slave-dealers, and the grand-master of the Salem witches.”

Related Characters: Old Scratch (speaker)
Related Symbols: Old Scratch’s Swamp
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the text, Old Scratch reveals himself as the devil. He is behind the bloodiest and most reprehensible of human actions. He begins by telling Tom about how the "red men" worshipped him. This is consistent with the racist perception of Native Americans at the time this piece was written. The stereotype of the violent Indian is further pursued when the devil tells Tom that the Native Americans burnt white men alive to please him. Of course, the story also reminds us that white men sacrifice themselves to the devil when they sell him their souls in return for material gain. The only real difference between the Native Americans and the "white savages" who supplanted them is that the latter are more self-deceiving about their immorality. 

Since the Native American genocide, Old Scratch says, he now amuses himself by creating absurd divisions between Christians. He orchestrates the slave-trade - that most wicked form of human greed. And he presides over the Salem witches (Salem was famous for its witch trials, in which many innocent people were accused of witchcraft and burned alive). In short, his hand is behind every major social evil in Tom's world. After this revelation, Tom recognizes him as the devil. 

One would think that to meet with such a singular personage [as Old Scratch], in this wild, lonely place, would have shaken any man’s nerves; but Tom was a hard-minded fellow, not easily daunted, and he had lived so long with a termagant wife, that he did not even fear the devil.

Related Characters: Tom Walker, Old Scratch, Tom Walker’s Wife
Related Symbols: Old Scratch’s Swamp
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, we see that Tom Walker is not afraid to find himself standing in front of the devil. He was also disdainful of the skull he found earlier, giving it a kick. From these two examples, we understand that because Tom has lived his life in sin, he does not fear the manifestation or result of it. Neither does he fear death at this point, although eventually, he will go a little mad because he fears it so much. 

The reason Tom gives for not being afraid of the devil is because he has spent so much time with his "termagant" (harsh and overbearing) wife. This is a moment of dark humor, and foreshadows the coming scenes with Tom's wife. However, the real reason that Tom doesn't fear the devil is because he is spiritually blind—he should be very frightened indeed, but instead is only interested in how he can turn a profit from this meeting.

He [Old Scratch] proposed, therefore, that Tom should employ it [the pirate treasure] in the black traffic; that is to say, that he should fit out a slave-ship. This, however, Tom resolutely refused: he was bad enough in all conscience; but the devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave-trader.

Related Characters: Tom Walker, Old Scratch
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom becomes desperate to make a deal with Old Scratch for the gold. When the devil finally does offer to make a deal with Tom, he begins by insisting that Tom should use the treasure to finance a slave ship. The devil suggests this because it is the absolute worst thing that Tom could do. Tom, who up until this point has been eager and even desperate to make a deal with the devil and throw his soul away for material gain, stops short at this suggestion. He flatly refuses to take part in the slave trade.  

This moment is the story's clearest moral accusation - slavery is so abominable that not even terrible Tom Walker will do it. Tom's refusal is his single moment of grace in the text. 

After this, the devil will suggest that Tom use the money to begin working as a usurer (someone who loans money and charges interest, often at especially high rates). This order of events suggests that the devil considers usury the second worst thing Tom could do, right below entering the slave trade.  

Just then there were three loud knocks at the street door. He [Tom Walker] stepped out to see who was there. A black man was holding a black horse which neighed and stamped with impatience.
“Tom, you're come for,” said the black fellow, gruffly. Tom shrank back, but too late. He had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat-pocket, and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose: never was sinner taken more unawares.

Related Characters: Old Scratch (speaker), Tom Walker
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene occurs in the middle of Tom's attempt to ruin a man who has taken out loans from him. The man begs for a few more months to pay back what he owes Tom, and Tom refuses. The man then reminds Tom that he has made a lot of money off of him already, to which Tom fatally responds, "The devil take me...if I have made a farthing!" Here, we see the devil arrive at Tom's door immediately following this proclamation. It is fitting that Tom called the devil to his own door - after all, he has been asking for damnation throughout the story.  

It is also symbolic that Tom's Bibles, which he carries around for protection, are of no use to him at the moment he needs them the most. Instead, one is "buried" beneath the mortgage Tom was "about to foreclose." This placement of the Bible reveals Tom's true, sinful priorities. For all his hypocritical attempts to be a pious man, Tom Walker truly only believes in money, greed, and the devil. The final line of this passage, "never was a sinner taken more unawares" is also deeply ironic. If anyone should expect the devil to come to collect their soul, it is Tom Walker. 

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Old Scratch Character Timeline in The Devil and Tom Walker

The timeline below shows where the character Old Scratch 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
...great amount of treasure. It is also said that the devil (later referred to as Old Scratch ) himself oversaw the hiding of the money and guards it even now, for the... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...how “the savages” cast spells here and “made sacrifices to the evil spirit” (later called Old Scratch ). Tom, however, is not afraid of such things. (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Tom lifts his eyes and beholds a great black man (later identified as Old Scratch ), seated opposite of him on a stump; Tom is “exceedingly surprised” to find himself... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The black man (later identified as Old Scratch ) demands to know what Tom is doing on his grounds; Tom retorts that the... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...master of the Salem witches. Tom recognizes the black man as the one commonly called Old Scratch , that is, the devil himself. One would think that Tom would be terrified to... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
Tom and Old Scratch have a long and serious conversation together as the former makes his way home through... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...earlier that evening with Crowninshield’s name carved into it, and he becomes convinced that all Old Scratch had told him is true. (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
...of Kidd’s hidden gold awakens the miserly woman’s greed. She urges her husband to accept Old Scratch ’s conditions for securing the treasure. As much as Tom is prepared to sell his... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
...gone many hours, and returns home quiet and sullen. She tells Tom that she met Old Scratch hewing at the root of a tall tree in the swamp, but he would not... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...off with the household’s silver to some other province; still others say that the devil, Old Scratch himself, had tricked her into a boggy area on top of which her hat was... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...of Tom’s wife. The narrator says that, though “a female scold” is a match for Old Scratch , the devil himself, here it seems she was bested. Around the cypress, it is... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
...the loss of his property with the loss of his wife, feeling even grateful to Old Scratch . He consequently tries to meet up with the devil again, but without success for... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
At first, Old Scratch pretends to be indifferent to Tom’s offers for the buried treasure, but soon enough the... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Usury Theme Icon
So instead Old Scratch proposes that Tom Walker become a usurer (someone who lends money and charges interest, especially... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Usury Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...thoughtful he becomes, especially about the afterlife. He at last regrets selling his soul to Old Scratch , and sets about trying to cheat the devil of his due by becoming a... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...world would turn upside down and he’d need to ride at full speed to escape Old Scratch ’s clutches. However, this is probably an old wives’ fable, and burying the horse so... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Usury Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...Just then there are three knocks at the door: it is a black man, presumably Old Scratch himself, holding a black horse. “‘Tom, you’re come for,’” the black man says gruffly. Tom... (full context)