Vocabulary in The Devil and Tom Walker

The Devil and Tom Walker 13
"and brought upon the parish..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

In the Christian Church, the "parish" refers to a small administrative district with its own church and run by a local pastor. The land jobber means that because he will have lost all of his money to Tom, his family will have to rely on the charity of the church for support.

"Zionward..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

"Zion" has different meanings in the Jewish and Christian faiths. In this context, "zionword" refers to the spiritual journey these "quiet Christians" are making to try and access the heavenly kingdom of God in the afterlife.

"out of parsimony..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

"Parsimony" means an extreme unwillingness to part with one's money. Tom may have a higher quality of life than he did prior to becoming a usurer, but he remains a greedy miser who doesn't even use the wealth he's acquired.

"Eldorados..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

"El Dorado" is the name of a fictitious country or city in the Americas rumored to be overflowing with gold. The land-jobbers would likely have been either eagerly searching for such a place or selling false information on its whereabouts in order to make money off of other speculators' gullibility.

"the old black-legs..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

A "black-leg" refers to a swindler, a gambler, or someone who tries to deceive someone of their possessions. Since the devil has a reputation for making deals for people's souls, this choice of words is apt.

"Old Scratch..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

This American name for the devil derives from old Norse/Germanic roots of the words skratte and skraz, both of which either refer to a "wood-demon", "satyr", or a type of "goblin." Notice the relationship between the "wood-demon" from the origin of the name and the woodcutting profession Irving gives the devil in this story.

"squaws..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

A "squaw" refers to an American Indian women or wife. Until the mid 20th century, this word, derived from an Algonquian language, was used neutrally by anthropologists and other social scientists in research contexts. While Irving uses the word in this neutral sense, it is worth noting that after the Cultural Revolution and the changes in the political climate in the US in the later 20th century, the word can no longer be used inoffensively.

"bosom..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

While this word typically refers to a woman's breasts or chest, "bosom" can also be used in a figurative sense to refer to the heart of a place. In this context, Tom finds himself standing on a peninsula that goes deep into the center of the swamp.

"hemlocks..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

While in Europe the hemlock plant is highly poisonous with fern-like leaves, in North America the hemlock fir or spruce is a large coniferous tree with dark green foliage. The hemlock fir shares the same name with the hemlock plant because it supposedly smells similar to the plant when its foliage is crushed up.

"usurer..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

A "usurer" is another word for a money-lender; however, this word usually means this person charges excessively high rates of interest. That the devil is interested in usurers represents the unfavorable view many people have of those who practiced this profession.

"and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

This line implies that the earthquake served as a reminder for many sinners of how temporary and unstable physical life is. That the sinners were shaken down to their knees suggests that many of them realized that their spiritual lives needed attending to and that the afterlife and the value of their souls were more valuable than worldy things.

"rejoicing, if a bachelor, in his celibacy...."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

In this context, "celibacy" refers to the state of not being married. Irving appears to be satirizing marriage in this paragraph by showing how Tom and his wife have such a terrible marriage that those who walk by are thankful that they themselves are not married.

"green spectacles..."   (The Devil and Tom Walker)

Irving's choice of "green" here is deliberate. The color green often has associations with envy, money, and avarice, or greed. The fact that Tom literally looks at the world through green lenses reinforces Tom's moral corruption and lust for wealth.