For the Love of Money: Rooting out Evil in “The Devil and Tom Walker”

rooting money

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August 7, 2019

Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” seems to be an elaborate tale written with the purpose of equating the want of wealth with the devil and with all things antithetical to goodness and God. In this light, it seems to be a story-version embodiment of a definition for the word or concept, “evil,” in which evil is defined as the pursuit of great wealth.

Of all the sins the devil serves to represent, the story associates the devil with the want of wealth more than any other sin. The association between this pursuit and “evilness” is quite profound throughout the storyline. Not only is pursuing wealth the assumed cause of many deaths, such as those of both Tom, his wife, and others who had made deals with the devil, and the reason Tom acted mean-spiritedly as a usurer, but it is also the cause of conflict and lack of love in relationships, such as that of Tom and his wife, who, despite being married, “conspired to cheat each other” (Irving 1).

The effect of Tom’s want of wealth on his marriage is so strong that when he finds her corpse in the woods, instead of feeling sadness, he “shrugged his shoulders” and “even felt something like gratitude toward the black woodsman, who, he considered, had done him a kindness” (Irving 2).

This shocking reaction of Tom’s highlights the depth of the destructive influence of pursuing wealth. Through portraying the want of wealth as the motivation behind all types of evil behavior and the root of all evil, the story defines evil as the pursuit of wealth.

Beyond associating the want of wealth with evil and all things antithetical to God, the story of “The Devil and Tom Walker” affirms that God cannot be fooled. The story illustrates that God is aware that many, such as Tom, develop “faith” in pursuit of “good things” in the next life. The effect of such materialistic faith is illustrated by Tom’s fate, who, “had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat-pocket and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage…never was sinner taken more unawares. The black man whisked him like a child into the saddle…and away he galloped, with Tom on his back” (Irving 5).

This powerful and dramatic fate for Tom seems to suggest that those seeking God for motives of securing “treasures in heaven,” as opposed to a genuine relationship with God, are not indeed protected by God. Instead, these individuals, whose faith in God is rooted in and contingent on their desire for materialistic gain, have faith that is fleeting just as material goods are.

The Bible that Tom keeps in his pockets to protect him from the devil is a metaphor for materialistic-based faith, which resides not in one’s heart as a continual theme in their lifestyle, but in their pockets, where it may be conveniently put in and removed again. But real faith, that which has roots in genuine appreciation for God, cannot be removed or forgotten. It is a part of the person, engrained in their heart, always with them.

Tom’s materialistic faith shares the characteristic materialistic objects—it can be misplaced, forgotten, or left behind. When the devil comes for Tom, his Bible, a symbol of his materialistic faith, is left behind. It is not present when he is caught off guard, and is therefore not able to save him. This insinuates that God cannot be fooled, and is not to be used as a means of materialistic gain, for only genuine faith saves.

Jianna Linn is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Jianna wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Jianna’s response here on the website.

Published in: on August 7, 2019 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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