Symbols in The Devil and Tom Walker

The symbols throughout “The Devil and Tom Walker” help demonstrate the characters’ internal landscape and foreshadow their eventual demise. For example, the shortcut Tom takes through the swamp symbolizes the shortcuts he takes in life and how these shortcuts lead to his damnation.

The Devil and Tom Walker 2
"his great house took fire..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

Tom earned his wealth and house through sinful and greedy behavior, and so the burning of his house serves as a symbolic reminder of Tom’s eternal damnation in the fires of hell.

"Like most short-cuts, it was an ill-chosen route..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

Irving has Tom Walker take a shortcut to comment on cheating or seeking the quickest way to wealth—providing another example of how Tom is so greedy that he cuts corners for his own gain when others wouldn't. The shortcut in the swamp symbolizes these shortcuts people try to use to get ahead in the world. However, such paths often contain risks and complications, in this case not only economic ones, but perhaps ones that lead to eternal damnation.