Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story, The Devil and Tom Walker, is a literary work that follows the dealings of two old time acquaintances – Mr. Scratch and Tom Walker. Stephen Vincent Benet has an Alice-in-Wonderlandish setting as he focuses on the devil as a central character as he meets up with Tom Walker who was once someone who Stephen Vincent Benet knew.
Stephen Vincent Benet wrote The Devil and Tom Walker as a short story during the early 20th century, but Stephen Vincent Benet’s writing was also heavily inspired by folktales he had heard throughout his childhood. Stephen Vincent Benet’s short stories are often filled with tales of good versus evil, which is apparent in The Devil and Tom Walker. Everything that Stephen Vincent Benet writes about comes from Stephen Vincent Benet’s life experiences or how Stephen felt about an idea.
Stephen Vincent Benet has made it known that most of his characters do not represent anyone directly; rather they are symbolic of how Stephen felt about the subject at hand (Benet). The setting of The Devil and Tom Walker takes place along a path Stephen Vincent Benet had walked throughout his childhood. Stephen Vincent Benet sets The Devil and Tom Walker in a swamp on the outskirts of a town during the early 1800’s. Stephen does this so that he can show how people will turn on one another when they allow themselves to be tempted by their own greed.
Stephen Vincent Benet takes place The Devil and Tom Walker in a location outside of any city because Stephen wanted to have a setting where no one would be around to help Tom if Tom was struggling with Mr. Scratch or anyone else that Stephen has placed into his story . Stephen Vincent Benet chooses to use Mr. Scratch as the main character because Stephen wants his audience to comprehend just how powerful temptation can be especially when someone is being tempted by their own greed.
Stephen Vincent Benet uses Tom Walker as a representation for how people should strive to be good and help others when Stephen Vincent Benet feels like the Devil is trying to change the subject (Hodges). The climax of Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Tom Walker takes place when Mr. Scratch offers Tom Walker whatever he would like in exchange for his soul . Stephen puts this in his story because Stephen wanted to show that greed has the ability to override anyone’s thoughts if they allow themselves to be consumed by it (Hodges).
The story tells of the couple’s quest for gold that leads to Tom Walker’s death. In “The Devil and Daniel Webster”, the devil persuades Jabez Stone to trade his soul in order to gain riches which gives him a comfortable living. Stephen Vincent Benet illustrates the consequences of man’s desire for material wealth through Tom Walker, Jabez Stone, and ultimately Stephen Decatur.
As part of this short story unit, students will be able to apply their knowledge on Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Tom Walker by analyzing Stephen Vincent Benet’s use of setting, tone, diction (word choice), figurative language (specifically personification), symbolism throughout both Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” and Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster”. Knowing the specific details of Stephen Vincent Benet’s work will help students to analyze the story better.
This information should be received in a lecture-based setting, however students should come up with the answers themselves. If Stephen Vincent Benet were to lecture on his short stories, he would want his audience to think critically about them. The short stories are meant to make people think instead of just reading for entertainment purposes. Stephen Vincent Benet wants his audience to question what they are reading so that they can get the most out of the texts and so they do not overlook any symbolism or foreshadowing Stephen Vincent Benet is trying to accomplish in his writing.
In Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster”, Stephen Vincent Benet presents to his audience Stephen Decatur, a man who traded his soul for riches. Stephen Decatur is very covetous because of the love affair he had with The Scarlet Woman. Stephen Decatur is presented as an individual who always gets what he wants; for instance, Stephen Decatur needs money and all of a sudden he receives it from Jabez Stone. Stephen Decatur’s willingness to make deals has some consequences associated with them as Stephen Decatur comes back as one of Satan’s children after his death.
Stephen Vincent Benet uses the character of Stephen Decatur to show readers that by making deals with the devil will result in bad things happening; however Stephen Vincent Benet does show Stephen Decatur in a different light. Stephen Vincent Benet has Stephen Decatur saved from going to Hell and instead Stephen Decatur becomes a child of God after being baptized by Mother Ann Lee, who Stephen Decatur believes will save him from the everlasting fire. Stephen Vincent Benet is presenting Stephen Decatur as a tragic hero because his greediness was so strong that it even got better of him in death.
He made deals with the devil not realizing that he would end up in Hell; even if Stephen Decatur did believe in Heaven and Hell, he still should have thought about what may happen to himself before making deals with the devil. Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” tells of an unhappy couple whose greediness consumes them both. Tom Walker’s wife is constantly nagging him which causes him to feel bad about himself and withdraw into his own world, becoming stingier than he was before. Tom Walker has always been a selfish man but after listening to his wife complain about their lack of wealth it made him even more so.
The story begins with the description of how Tom Walker is walking through the forest on a cold day in an attempt to escape from his nagging wife when he comes across the devil. Stephen Vincent Benet describes Stephen Decatur as being red skinned with “long black hair that fell down behind” (128) letting Stephen Vincent Benet’s audience know what Stephen Decatur looks like without saying Stephen Decatur has actually come in the form of the devil. Stephen Vincent Benet uses this imagery so Stephen Decatur is seen in a different type of character than he would be if Stephen Decatur was described in another stereotypical way.
Stephen Vincent Benet describes Stephen Decatur’s clothing with “brown and shining” (128) which lets Stephen Vincent Benet’s audience know that Stephen Decatur looks like anybody else when Stephen Decatur is not wearing red. Stephen Vincent Benet is making it easier for his readers to think about Stephen Decatur without thinking too hard about him, therefore Stephen Vincent Benet has made the story more compelling by allowing his audience to visualize Stephen Decatur in any way they can imagine without giving them too much information on his appearance.