"The Devil and Tom Walker" and "The Devel and Daniel Webster" - Two Modern Faustian Legends
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A Faustian legend is a story in which a character trades something of great personal value to the devil in order to receive personal gain. Since this type of literature originated in the Fourth Century it has spread throughout the world. Two relatively recent versions of this legend are “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving and “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Vincent Benét. These stories show many similarities as well as a few differences. While both Benét and Irving present similar themes in setting of the tales and motivation in the Faustian character, they do differ in the nature of that character and their visual presentation of the Devil.
A fairly obvious comparison between these two stories is the setting in which they take place. Both occur in New England territory, mainly in the forests and hilly country. It also seems as if the land in each of the tales is rocky and hard to work. The geographical features of these lands sound much the same. In fact, each of the two takes place in an area very close to, if not in, Massachusetts. Tom Walker lives a few miles from Boston, while Jabez Stone lives in New Hampshire, near the area where that state meets up with Vermont and Massachusetts. Daniel Webster lives in Massachusetts, in a town called Marshfield. The geographical and cartographical similarities here show an obvious parallel between the two.
The motivation of the Faustian character is to a great extent the same. Both Tom Walker and Jabez Stone manifestly want a better life than what they had. Each character is down on their luck. Walker lives in “a forlorn-looking house that stood alone, and had an air of starvation” (Irving 259) while Stone is “an unlucky man” (“Daniel Webster”). Each of the...
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...niel Webster”). This version of Old Scratch is obviously not the rugged, “manly-man” of Irving’s writing. As noted later, this devil also has teeth filed to a point. By introducing the Devil in such a light, Benét is apotheosizing his mental power as opposed to physical power. This creature is more than a match for the smartest human who will be pitted against him. Showing the Devil like this early in the story makes Daniel Webster’s victory over him later all the better.
Both “The Devil and Tom Walker” and “The Devil and Daniel Webster” are exemplary specimens of Faustian myths, and as such have very many similarities and concurrences. But, they also emphasize different aspects of the characters and their respective personalities. These two commendable stories serve as excellent chronicles of literature and as worthy examples of moral lessons for all ages.