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 two is desperate for something other than what they have. Tom Walker was so eager that “[he was] prepared to agree to anything rather than not gain the promised treasure” (Irving 264). And, in a way, he does give up his wife because of this promised treasure. Benét presents Jabez Stone’s situation as much the same:
He'd been plowing that morning and he'd just broke the plowshare on a rock that he could have sworn hadn't been there yesterday. And, as he stood looking at the plowshare, the off horse began to cough-that ropy kind of cough that means sickness and horse doctors. There were two children down with the measles, his wife was ailing, and he had a whitlow on his thumb. It was about the last straw for Jabez Stone. "I vow," he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate-"I vow it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil! And I would, too, for two cents!” (“Daniel Webster”)
Each man has just had enough with their current situation and...