The Devil and Tom Walker
Satire is used by many famous writers to create humor and to criticize people’s unwise, and senseless actions. As George Orwell once said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (Orwell, 1945). People will always be greedy and think they are smarter than others but this is untrue. The one who thinks he is smarter or better than the other will always end up losing in life. In the short story “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving, satire is incorporated in a perfect way. This story is about Tom Walker, who makes a pact with the devil, and ends up lending money at high interest rates. When Tom Walker thinks he is smarter than his customers and does not give more time to one of his customers to pay him back, Tom’s life ends in an instant. Through the use of satire Irving criticizes the institution of marriage and the folly of human nature.
Irving criticizes the institution of marriage in many ways throughout the story. He introduces Tom to the story by pointing out the following: “He had a wife as miserly as himself; they were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other.” In this quote Irving substantiates that marriage will lead one to temptation, and that many people that think are happy with their partner will always look for other partners during marriage. Another example of Irving’s use of satire to criticize marriage is when he writes, “Whatever the woman could lay hands on she hid away: a hen could not crackle but she was on the alert to secure the new-laid egg.” Irving is stating that marriage will make one selfish with one’s partner. He is trying to show that it is better to own things individually, because when someone commits to marriage, one is also agreeing to have common property with one’s wife/husband. Irving mocks how marriage instead of making one share everything will actually make one even more selfish. This selfishness will lead to problems in one’s married life. Another quote that shows Irving’s criticism to marriage is “Her voice was often hear in wordy warfare with her husband; and his face sometimes showed signs that their conflicts were not confined to words.” This quote illustrates how marriage can lead to violence, and fights can lead to divorce. This is why the reader can infer that Irving does not believe that marriage is the sacred institution it is proclaimed to be. Moreover, Irving is also a master at creating dark humor: “Tom consoles himself for the loss of his property with the loss of his wife; for he was a man of fortitude. He felt something like gratitude towards the black woodsman, who he considered had done him a kindness.” This quote is comic because one would think that Tom would be really sad after his wife’s death, but he is sad because his property is missing, and consoles himself with her death. It is ironic that Tom would be happy for the loss of his wife. Clearly, Washington Irving uses satire throughout the story to criticize the imperfect institution of marriage.
Irving not only uses satire to criticize the institution of marriage, but also uses satire to criticize the folly of human nature. The following quote, “All her avarice was awakened at the mention of hidden gold, and she urged her husband to comply with the black man’s terms and secure what would make them wealthy for life” shows how humans are always greedy and the only thing they care about is money and wealth. Tom’s wife does not even think about the offer and what troubles it could bring her. She only wants the gold, but she does not even know what she is getting into. Another example of Irving’s criticism is when he says, “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. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent churchgoer. He prayed loudly and strenuously as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs.” Irving says this because he is trying to show how people are complete hypocrites when they are trying to hide the evil actions they have incurred in. Evidently, satire is being used to show human duplicity. Although he is going to church, and he might seem as a good Samaritan, inside he is full of evil. A third way Irving criticizes the folly of human kind is in the following quote, “In this way he made money hand over hand; became a rich and mighty man, and exalted his cocked hat upon change. He built himself, as usual, a vast house, out of ostentation; but left the greater part of it unfinished and unfurnished out of parsimony. He even set up a carriage in the fullness of his vain glory, though he nearly starved the horses which drew it.” Irving portrays a very important message through this quote. Essentially, Irving is highlighting the fact that even though Tom has enough money to feed his horses, he prefers to starve them because he is too avaricious. Irving is transmitting the message that the folly of human nature many times has to do with greed and selfishness. Evidently Irving is trying to criticize human vices through this short story.
To conclude, Irving does a splendid job of connecting marriage and the folly of human nature with hypocrisy, greed, and ambition. The author delivers a very important message through his use of satire, and makes the reader realize that marriage is not a noble “problem-free” institution, and that the folly of human nature can lead to one’s downfall. The dark humor that the author integrates in the short story enriches his strong criticism to these topics.