The Devil and Tom Walker

Old Scratch’s Swamp Symbol Analysis

Old Scratch’s Swamp Symbol Icon
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.

Old Scratch’s Swamp Quotes in The Devil and Tom Walker

The The Devil and Tom Walker quotes below all refer to the symbol of Old Scratch’s Swamp. 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:

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One day that Tom Walker had been to a distant part of the neighborhood, he took what he considered a short cut homewards through the swamp. Like most short cuts, it was an ill-chosen route… It was full of pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses, where the green surface often betrayed the traveller into a gulf of black, smothering mud…

Related Characters: Tom Walker
Related Symbols: Old Scratch’s Swamp
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

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As he turned up the soil unconsciously, his staff struck against something hard. He raked it out of the vegetable mould, and lo! a cloven skull, with an Indian tomahawk buried deep in it, lay before him. The rust on the weapon showed the time that had elapsed since this death-blow had been given. It was a dreary memento of the fierce struggle that had taken place in this last foothold of the Indian warriors.

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

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris

“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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia dese

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id

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Old Scratch’s Swamp Symbol Timeline in The Devil and Tom Walker

The timeline below shows where the symbol Old Scratch’s Swamp 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
...Boston, Massachusetts, is a deep inlet that winds for miles inland and terminates in a swamp. This inlet is flanked by a beautiful grove on one side and a ridge on... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
One day Tom Walker is taking an ill-conceived shortcut home through the nearby swamp; it is gloomy with pines and hemlocks and owls, full of pits and boggy areas... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...Scratch) demands to know what Tom is doing on his grounds; Tom retorts that the swamp belongs not to the black man but to Deacon Peabody. The black man says that... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...a long and serious conversation together as the former makes his way home through the swamp. Old Scratch tells Tom of Kidd’s buried treasure, and offers to place it within Tom’s... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Wealth, Religion, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...it. This news reminds Tom of the hemlock he had been sitting on in the swamp earlier that evening with Crowninshield’s name carved into it, and he becomes convinced that all... (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 woman’s greed. She urges her husband... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
...that she met Old Scratch hewing at the root of a tall tree in the swamp, but he would not come to terms with her. She is resolved to make him... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...befell Tom’s wife, but many theories circulate: some say she got lost in the mazy swamp and fell into a pit; others say that she ran off with the household’s silver... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...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 was drawn by... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
...to anything, he meets the Black Woodsman again one night, at the edge of the swamp. (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...never returns to foreclose the mortgage. A man who lives on the boarder of the swamp reports that during the thunderstorm he heard the clattering of hoofs and saw from his... (full context)
Greed Theme Icon
Usury Theme Icon
Storytelling as Moral Instruction Theme Icon
...hole under the oaks which Tom dug in recovering Kidd’s treasure, and even now the swamp and old Indian fort are haunted on stormy nights by a gowned figure on horseback,... (full context)