The swamp near which Tom Walker
and his wife
live is a complex symbol for the world of matter (gold and silver), as well as worldliness (the base pursuit of earthly riches), and moral corruption. Before the action of the story proper begins, Captain Kidd
buried his ill-gotten treasure here, and in one sense that treasure reveals the fate of all human wealth: gained only through vicious predation and spiritual ignorance, it gives no real pleasure in this life and in the next causes only an eternity of suffering, just as Tom’s wealth buys him only an unfinished, unfurnished mansion, two skeletal horses, and damnation. Old Scratch
guards Kidd’s treasure and uses it to tempt people into selling their souls, and also claims to own the swamp in which the treasure is hidden. Consequently, we might say that in this sense the swamp itself is a symbol for the material world in which we live, a world of growth and decay, of violent life and violent death, and the pirate’s treasure is the illusion that one can profit by going deep into the swamp, when really in digging up the treasure one merely digs one’s own grave.