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Essay/Term paper: Human intent and the aftermath of it

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Expository Essays

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Human Intent and the Aftermath of It
Washington Irving, in writing "The Devil and Tom Walker", and Stephen Vincent
Benet, in writing "The Devil and Daniel Webster" illustrate to the reader the
consequences of man's desire for material wealth and how a person's motivation for a
relationship with the devil affects the outcome of the "deal". In these two different, yet
surprisingly similar narratives, the authors present their beliefs about human intent and
In "The Devil and Tom Walker", the story is seen of a stingy man and his nagging
wife who "...were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other" (128). In the
story, one sees a man make a deal with the devil, who in the story is known as "Old
Scratch", for the sole purpose of personal gain. Tom Walker, seeing only the possible
wealth that he could achieve, bargains with the devil and finally reaches an agreement
which he sees to be fair. Tom does not see the danger present in bargaining with such
a powerful force for so little gain. There is a note of humor present in the narrative,
which adds to the sense of danger that is present making deals that one does not
intend to keep. Commenting on the story, Larry L. Stevens notes that "This tale,...,
comically presents the results of valuing the dollar above all else." This story does a
very good job of conveying a message to the reader about human values.
In the story Tom is seen as a very self-centered man who cares only for himself and
his own well being. He is not even phased when he discovers the remains of his wife
hanging in a apron in a tree; "Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property with the
loss of his wife" (132). Tom is portrayed in the story as being typical of many of the
citizens who lived in the town, many of who's names Old Scratch had carved into the
bark of a tree near the Indian Fort. When the devil shows Tom a tree for a greedy
townsperson, he fails to see that he is very much like that tree when he "looked in the
direction that the stranger pointed and beheld one of the great trees, fair and
flourishing without, but rotten at the core" (130).
As time passes after Tom has made his deal with the devil, and he is working as a
usurer in Boston, squeezing every last cent out of the unlucky speculators that walked
through his door, Tom begins to wonder whether he made the right choice when he
dealt with Old Scratch: "He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his
black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions" (134). Tom's
decision to attempt to cheat the devil becomes his downfall. Tom now begins a routine
of attending a Church service and praying loudly for everyone to hear, and he outfits
himself with two Bibles which he thinks will protect him to the end. In a great irony
Irving tells of how Tom will put down his Bible for a few minutes while he forecloses a
mortgage of some poor borrower, and the resumes his reading when he is finished.
Stevens recognized this irony and noted that "Irving has a keen eye for the ironies and
contradictions of human behavior." Irving presents the reader with the difficulty that
can arise when intentions are based solely on personal gain. In the story, one sees
how Tom Walker's actions contradict each other in their meaning and purpose. It is
seen in the story how Tom walker would show his devotion to the Church and to God,
when he was truly only trying to protect himself from when the devil came to collect
what was due. Stevens summarized Tom's actions by noting that "...the tale clearly
satirizes those who make a public show of devotion while retaining meanness of spirit".
Irving does a very good job of demonstrating the ill consequences that can and most
likely will be a result of man's lack of caring, and possibly ignorance. Had Tom Walker
thought upon the deal more thoroughly, instead of jumping right into it, he most likely
would not have suffered the terrible outcome of the deal. If he had realized that the
wealth that he would achieve would be useless to him in the end, he would probably be
living in his old house, unhappy and without a wife, but at least he would have had his
dignity, for he could know that he did not sink to such lows as to give up his soul for a
few years of unhappy wealth. The humor present in the tale does help to add a bit of
liveliness to the narrative, keeping it from being completely dreary and having a
melancholy-like mood. "While the selling of one's soul and the inhumane
consequences of greed are significant, they become subjects for laughter through
Irving's character portrayals and his use of ironic understatement", insightfully noted
Stevens of this, one of Irving's finest works.
In "The Devil and Daniel Webster", the reader learns the story of an extremely
unlucky New England farmer named Jabez Stone, who like Tom Walker, makes a deal
with the devil for personal gain. In the narrative, Jabez is frustrated with the illness of
his wife, the condition of his animals, and his unproductive crops. Jabez inadvertently
summons the devil and makes a deal with him, stipulating that Jabez would have great
success in all his undertakings, and that in seven years time, he would relinquish his
soul to the devil, known in this story as "Scratch" or "Mr. Scratch". However when the
time comes for Jabez to give the devil what is legally his, he manages to bargain for a
three year extension. When that time is almost over, Jabez employs the services of the
notes speaker Daniel Webster, who, in the end, wins for Jabez stone his freedom and
makes the devil put in writing that no New Hampshireman will be bothered by him again
until "doomsday".
There is one striking difference present between the two stories, and it is a very
significant factor when analyzing the outcome of each character's separate bargains.
That is the intentions that each one had when they made their deals. In "The Devil and
Tom Walker", Tom Walker bargains with the devil strictly for personal gain, without
considering the needs of others. He does not see how his miserly ways are ruining him
and he suffers severe consequences because of it. In "The Devil and Daniel Webster",
Jabez Stone signs a contract with the devil to save his family from starvation. He was
thinking of others when he signed the contract, and not himself. That is what leads to
Webster's strong point for his defense of Jabez Stone, "Then he turned to Jabez
Stone...an ordinary man who'd had hard luck and wanted to change it. And, because
he'd wanted to change it, now he was going to be punished for all eternity" (641).
The story is truly a credit to the true Daniel Webster, as David Peck eloquently
noted: "The story tapped America's love for folklore and legend,..., it re-created the
story of a genuine American hero." A "genuine American hero" is what Webster is truly
portrayed as in this narrative. Peck also noted that "The story is praise not only for
Daniel Webster, however, but also for his country, for the two are inextricably
intertwined." This story also hints to the fact even though people may seem to be cruel
and hard on the outside, they can be truly caring and compassionate. The political and
spiritual lessons to be learned from "The Devil and Daniel Webster" are those which
are very important to the existence and survival of every human being alive today.
Both "The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Devil and Daniel Webster" both are
beautifully written masterpieces of American literature that will undoubtedly be
cherished for generations of readers to come. This beauty comes from each authors
uniquely different American heritage which adds a certain flavor to each of the works.
This is all summed up by Edward Wagenknecht in his "Washington Irving: Moderation
Displayed", in reference to the book in which "The Devil and Tom Walker" was
published: "'The Devil and Tom Walker' is,..., the finest narrative in this part of the

Works Cited
Adventures in American Literature. Ed. Fannie Safier et al. Athena Edition. Austin:
Holt, 1996.
Benet, Stephen Vincent. "The Devil and Daniel Webster". in Adventures in American
Literature. Ed. Fannie Safier et al. Athena Edition. Austin: Holt, 1996. 635-643.
Discovering Authors. Macintosh. CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.
Irving, Washington. "The Devil and Tom Walker". in Adventures in American
Literature. Ed. Fannie Safier et al. Athena Edition. Austin: Holt, 1996. 128-135.
Masterplots II: Short Story Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 2. Pasadena: Salem
Press, 1989.
Peck, David. Masterplots II: Short Story Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 2.
Pasadena: Salem Press, 1989. 575-578.
Stewart, Larry L. Masterplots II: Short Story Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 2.
Pasadena: Salem Press, 1989. 579-581.
Wagenknecht, Edward. "Washington Irving: Moderation Displayed". Oxford UP.
1962. 233. in Discovering Authors. Macintosh. CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale
Research, 1993. 3.

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