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All Society In One Man: Character Analysis Of Washington Irving’s Tom Walker Character

889 words - 4 pages

Washington Irving has been considered to be the foremost American author of the early romantic era. As such, the majority of his works contain elements consistent with Romantic ideals, including his short story The Devil and Tom Walker. Through literary elements such as diction, imagery, tone, syntax, and figurative language, Irving portrays Tom Walker in a negative light. In a larger sense however, Irving’s use of these literary elements goes beyond merely characterizing Tom Walker, as the entire story can be seen as an allegory critiquing society during the Industrial Revolution.
Irving’s utilizes diction masterfully in order to portray Walker’s greediness. In order to accomplish this, Irving uses vivid, specific descriptors. This is a pinnacle of Romantic-era writing. For example, the author does not merely describe Walker as a bad man, but uses words that evoke the most negative possible emotions in a reader. This can be evidenced towards the end of the work where Irving states: “He built himself, as usual, a vast house, out of ostentation, but left the greater part of it unfinished and unfurnished, out of parsimony” (Irving 266). Ostentation refers to an excessive, lavish, and even vulgar display of one’s wealth or success. Rather than being merely arrogant or haughty, this word describes an action that is nearly malicious. Likewise, parsimony refers to a most extreme form of stinginess, beyond frugality or thriftiness. As such, Irving describes Walker as possessing concurrently a willingness to both flaunt his wealth and protect it at the same time. While Tom’s greediness is easily seen through this diction, the reader can also deduce that Irving is making a critique of the industrialists of the time—always eager to flaunt their own wealth, while being parsimonious in regards to the structure of their businesses and the well-being of their workers.
In addition to diction, Irving uses vivid imagery to characterize Tom Walker’s greediness. One line that stands about above the rest occurs after Walker has become an usurer, as he is preparing a carriage for himself. Irving states that Walker “nearly starved the horses which drew it; as the ungreased wheels groaned and screeched…you would have thought you heard the souls of the poor debtors he was squeezing” (Irving 266). This powerful statement portrays an exceedingly avaricious image of Tom—he is neglecting to spend money on the very items he needs to perform his job properly. Moreover, the reference to the screeching of the tires sounding like screaming souls indicates the malevolent nature of Tom’s work. Tom became so rigid in collecting the debts of his customers it was...

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