The Devil and Tom Walker

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Tom Walker’s Wife Character Analysis

Tom’s stereotypical nagging, scolding wife is even more miserly than her husband; when she’s not hoarding valuables from him, she’s verbally, maybe even physically abusing him. After Tom initially declines to accept Old Scratch’s offer to sell his soul for riches, Tom’s wife fearlessly resolves to accept it herself, bearing in her apron the household’s silver out into the swamp to bargain with the devil. She’s never heard from again (characteristically, Tom misses the silver more than he does his wife). Some say she just got lost; others say she ran off with the silver to another province. However, another, more probable story holds that Tom found evidence that the devil just dragged his wife down to hell: a bundle tied in an apron that held a heart and a liver. Tom, of course, pities Old Scratch in all this: the devil must have had a tough time of wrestling and dragging Tom’s ferocious wife down to her damnation.

Tom Walker’s Wife Quotes in The Devil and Tom Walker

The The Devil and Tom Walker quotes below are all either spoken by Tom Walker’s Wife or refer to Tom Walker’s Wife. 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

There lived near this place a meagre miserly fellow of the name of Tom Walker. He had a wife as miserly as himself… They lived in a forlorn-looking house, that stood alone and had an air of starvation.

Related Characters: Tom Walker, Tom Walker’s Wife
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Outside of the swamp, Tom Walker and his wife live in impoverished desperation. They are both miserly and greedy, and their greed leads them to steal and cheat one another. Their relationship reveals how self-defeating greed is - the more that they try and cheat one another to benefit themselves, the emptier their world becomes. 

The house itself reflects Tom and his wife's moral failings. It is "forlorn" and has an "air of starvation." They have hollowed out their home with their greed, and now it is merely an uninviting place. Furthermore, the house's air of starvation mirrors Tom and his wife's insatiable hunger for wealth. 

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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.

All her [Tom Walker’s wife’s] avarice was awakened at the mention of hidden gold, and she urged her husband to comply with the black man's terms and secure what would make them wealthy for life. However Tom might have felt disposed to sell himself to the devil, he was determined not to do so to oblige his wife; so he flatly refused out of the mere spirit of contradiction.

Related Characters: Tom Walker’s Wife
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

After he reveals himself in the swamp, Old Scratch tells Tom about Captain Kidd's buried gold. Tom returns home and tells his miserly wife about it, and here she responds accordingly, with sudden and frantic greed.

In another moment of dark humor, however, Tom refuses to sell his soul to the devil just to spite his wife. He has become so miserly that he will even cheat himself out of buried treasure just for the pleasure of cheating his wife out of happiness. In doing so, he ironically preserves his soul for the moment. 

His wife, however, does not hesitate at the opportunity to trade her soul for gold. She will go out and try and make a deal with Old Scratch herself. Greed has warped both Tom and his wife's motives. 

Tom now grew uneasy for her [his wife’s] safety, especially as he found she had carried off in her apron the silver teapot and spoons, and every portable article of value.

Related Characters: Tom Walker’s Wife
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom's wife goes in search of Old Scratch without Tom. She takes with her the most valuable things in the house - "the silver teapot and spoons," along with whatever else might be tempting to the devil. 

This is another darkly comic passage - as Tom's wife fails to return home he becomes "uneasy" for her, "especially" when he discovers that she's stripped the house of valuables. Tom misses his household goods much more than he misses his wife. Greed has destroyed their human relationships. It has made Tom's wife strip her family home bare in an attempt to attract the devil's attention, and it has made Tom mourn those same valuables more than he does his own wife. 

What was her [Tom Walker’s wife’s] real fate nobody knows, in consequence of so many pretending to know. It is one of those facts that have become confounded by a variety of historians.

Related Characters: Tom Walker’s Wife
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Irving's short story is meant to act as a moral lesson and a warning to readers, and especially to predators and usurers like Tom, describing the possible consequences of their actions. 

In this passage, the narrator reveals himself with surprising clarity and offers up several possible options for what happened to Tom Walker's wife in the swamp. The options range from the accidental (maybe she got lost in the swamp) to the wild (she and Old Scratch wrestled with one another and she pulled out some of his hair). The narrator ultimately chooses the latter story, presumably because it is the most revealing of the wife's character, and also because it is the most exciting. 

Here, the narrator suggests that moral instruction and entertainment are not mutually exclusive in a work of literature, and in fact can promote and prompt one another. 

Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property, with the loss of his wife, for he was a man of fortitude. He even felt something like gratitude towards the black woodman, who, he considered, had done him a kindness.

Related Characters: Tom Walker, Tom Walker’s Wife
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

All that Tom can recover of his wife is her heart and her liver wrapped up in the apron that had carried the household silver. This is a shocking and strange moment meant to excite and confound the reader. Here, Tom considers the fact that his wife is dead, and all the silver she carried off is gone as well, and he decides to "console" himself for the painful loss of the silver with the good news that he is finally free of his wife. This calculation of Tom's is another moment of potent dark humor in the text, where Tom goes so far as to thank the devil for killing his wife and freeing him.

Ironically, Tom had refused to sell his soul for fear of pleasing his wife, and now that she is gone there is nothing preventing him from making a deal with Old Scratch in exchange for the buried treasure. Tom's wife's disappearance is the beginning of the end for Tom. 

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Tom Walker’s Wife Character Timeline in The Devil and Tom Walker

The timeline below shows where the character Tom Walker’s Wife 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
...poor miser named Tom Walker, who is married to a an ill-tempered, fierce, loud, strong wife as miserly as himself. So miserly are the two, in fact, that they even try... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Tom arrives home to find a black, irremovable fingerprint burnt into his forehead. His wife’s first news for him is that the rich buccaneer Absalom Crowninshield has suddenly died: “‘a... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Tom shares with his wife all that transpired in the swamp, and mention of Kidd’s hidden gold awakens the miserly... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
At the close of one’s summer day, then, Tom’s wife fearlessly treks to the ruined Indian fort herself. She is gone many hours, and returns... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
Nobody knows what fate actually befell Tom’s wife, but many theories circulate: some say she got lost in the mazy swamp and fell... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
The most current and probable story, however, holds that Tom went out searching for his wife in the swamp, when owls and bats were on the wing. Soon enough his attention... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Tom consoles himself for 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... (full context)