Short Fiction

The Devil and Tom Walker

“The Devil and Tom Walker” is a short story in which Washington Irving relates a fictional legend reminiscent of Goethe’s Faust. In it, the Devil entices Tom Walker with the promise of Pirate-Captain Kidd’s treasure, buried somewhere in the marshes near Boston. Written as a fictional sketch, a piece of writing with an informal tone that explores exotic locales and focuses on descriptions of people and places, Irving’s story takes on the symbolic quality of folklore or a fairy tale. In creating a frame story in which a skeptical narrator relays the story, Irving is able to captivate multiple audiences: one that believes in the myth and another who laughs at those who believe in the myth. The story’s rural, old-American setting allows it to press back against capitalism and consumerism, which were becoming dominant in American society at the time. In this way, it is simultaneously nostalgic and timeless.

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