The Devil and Tom Walker

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“The Devil and Tom Walker”—Washington Irving
Guided Reading Questions

      1. When does this story take place? (line 16)

      2. What sort of person is Tom Walker? (line 18)

      3. What is Tom Walker’s wife like? (lines 31–32)

      4. As the story begins, where is Tom going? (lines 38–39)

      5. When have you or someone you know unexpectedly encountered an intimidating stranger? What feelings did the encounter elicit?

      6. How does Washington Irving use descriptive details to create a frightening image of the man whom Tom meets in the forest? Possible answer: Irving describes him as having a “gruff voice,” “swarthy and dingy face” that was “begrimed with soot,” “a shock of coarse black hair,” and “great red eyes.” The man, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere, is carrying an ax on his shoulder, and he scowls at Tom and challenges him in “a hoarse, growling voice.”

      7. Does Tom react to the stranger as one would expect? Explain your answer. Possible answer: Some students may say that Tom should react with fear rather than defiance (“‘Your grounds!’ said Tom, with a sneer. . . .”) Others may feel that Tom has already shown himself to be a man who is not easily intimidated.

      8. Inferring--Reread lines 96–105. Why do you think the trees are marked with the men’s names? Possible answer: The trees are marked with the names of men who have made deals with the devil, selling their souls in exchange for wealth or power

      9. Satire-- Reread lines 115–118. What do they tell you about the author’s attitude toward the activities of the early settlers? What led you to make that inference? Possible answer: By indicating that the devil is behind the activities of the early settlers, the passage suggests that Irving condemns the settlers’ activities as evil.

      10. Who does Tom meet in the woods? (lines 112–121)

      11. Why does Tom show no fear? (lines 125–126)

      12. What offer does the stranger make to Tom? (lines 128–132)

      13. In lines 144–149, what does Crowninshield’s death suggest about the consequences of making a pact with the devil? Possible answer: Crowninshield had become a “rich buccaneer” (line 145), but in the end, the devil had cut down his tree and taken his due. Crowninshield’s fate is a reminder that bargaining with the devil has inescapable consequences.

      14. Summarize: What does Tom’s wife want him to do? Why doesn’t Tom want to do it? Possible answer: She wants him to agree to the devil’s terms so that they can be rich. He spitefully doesn’t want to do this because it would please his wife.

      15. Analyze: What does Tom’s reluctance “to sell himself to the devil” suggest about his character and his relationship with his wife? Possible answer: Tom is as spiteful as he is greedy, and his relationship with his wife is thoroughly adversarial. He may be willing to make a pact with the devil to get rich, but not if it means pleasing his wife.

      16. Evaluate: How effective is Irving in showing how Tom and his wife feel about each other? Explain. Possible answer: Very effective: Irving shows that Tom’s wife’s only concern is for wealth (certainly not for her husband’s welfare), while Tom’s main concern is spiting his wife

      17. Satire: How does Irving use humor and exaggeration to satirize a “female scold” in lines 199–207? Possible answer: Irving uses humor and exaggeration in relating details of the fight—for example, “handfuls of hair,” “fierce clapper-clawing”—and explaining that “a female scold is generally considered a match for the devil” (lines 200–201). Irving also describes how Tom feels sympathy for the devil, not for his wife.

      18. What happens to Tom’s wife? (lines 196–202)

      19. How does Tom react to his wife’s fate? (lines 205–210)

      20. How does Tom feel about the idea of becoming a usurer? (lines 231–233)

      21. Reread lines 232–243. How does Tom compare with the devil in terms of his greed and mercilessness? Decide what comment Irving is making about usurers in general. Point out that the devil characterizes a usurer as someone who does his bidding. Ask students to reread lines 232–243 and look for examples of what usurers do that could be considered “the devil’s work.”Possible answer: Tom is even greedier and more merciless than the devil. Irving is making clear that he considers usurers coldblooded, ruthless creatures

      22. What kind of churchgoer is represented by Tom in lines 276–289? Think about what Irving is suggesting about this kind of individual.

      23. As Tom grows old, what does he begin to worry about? (lines 276–277)

      24. Why does Tom begin to regret the bargain he has made? (lines 277–279)

      25. Describe the things that Tom does in hopes of “cheating” the devil. (lines 279–296)

      26. In lines 318–324, how had Tom hoped to escape the consequences of his actions? Possible answer: Tom had hoped that by going to church and carrying around a Bible he could somehow avoid losing his soul to the devil.

      27. What happens to Tom Walker? (lines 326–330)

      28. What becomes of all the riches Tom has acquired? (lines 340–345)

      29. What does Washington Irving mean when he writes, “Let all griping money brokers lay this story to heart”? (lines 346–347)

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