Intent and Motive in The Devil and Tom Walker and The Devil and Daniel Webster
Washington Irving, in writing "The Devil and Tom Walker", and Stephen Vincent Benet, in writing "The Devil and Daniel Webster" illustrate to the reader the consequences of man's desire for material wealth and how a person's motivation for a relationship with the devil affects the outcome of the "deal". In these two different, yet surprisingly similar narratives, the authors present their beliefs about human intent and motive.
In "The Devil and Tom Walker", the story is seen of a stingy man and his nagging wife who "...were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other" (128). In the story, one sees a man make a deal with the devil, who in the story is known as "Old Scratch", for the sole purpose of personal gain. Tom Walker, seeing only the possible wealth that he could achieve, bargains with the devil and finally reaches an agreement which he sees to be fair. Tom does not see the danger present in bargaining with such a powerful force for so little gain. There is a note of humor present in the narrative, which adds to the sense of danger that is present making deals that one does not intend to keep. Commenting on the story, Larry L. Stevens notes that "This tale,..., comically presents the results of valuing the dollar above all else." This story does a very good job of conveying a message to the reader about human values.
In the story Tom is seen as a very self-centered man who cares only for himself and his own well being. He is not even phased when he discovers the remains of his wife hanging in a apron in a tree; "Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property with the loss of his wife" (132). Tom is portrayed in the story as being typical of many of the citizens who lived in the town, many of who's names Old Scratch had carved into the bark of a tree near the Indian Fort. When the devil shows Tom a tree for a greedy townsperson, he fails to see that he is very much like that tree when he "looked in the direction that the stranger pointed and beheld one of the great trees, fair and flourishing without, but rotten at the core" (130).
As time passes after Tom has made his deal with the devil, and he is working as a usurer in Boston, squeezing every last cent out of the unlucky speculators that walked through his door, Tom begins to wonder whether he made the right choice when he dealt with Old Scratch: "He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions" (134). Tom's decision to attempt to cheat the devil becomes his downfall. Tom now begins a routine of attending a Church service and praying loudly for everyone to hear, and he outfits himself with two Bibles which he thinks will protect him to the end. In a great irony Irving tells of how Tom will put down his Bible for a few minutes while he forecloses a mortgage of some poor borrower, and the...