Washington Irving wrote "The Devil and Tom Walker" as part of a short stories collection titled "Tales of a Traveller" in 1824. Set in New England in the 1700s, Walker selling his soul to the devil for treasure is one horrific component to this story that may seem everything but romantic. However, "The Devil and Tom Walker," which is often taught in high school literature classes, offers many characteristics that are part of the romantic literature genre.
"The Devil and Tom Walker" is an example of romanticism in American literature. Romanticism was an artistic movement in the 19th century that promoted individuality, emotion, love and nature. Romanticism within literature stretched the inner feelings of characters and challenged them to change their pasts. Characters, such as Tom, his wife and even the devil, are acutely aware of pasts that they desire to change. Nature also plays a large role in this story, placing it in the romanticism classification. The tree that holds the treasure, the sacred forest and the mysterious swamp, each feature human characteristics, offering romantic elements to the story's drama. Authors who write within the romantic genre do not always write about romantic love but more so a state of mind.
"The Devil and Tom Walker" was written within a setting and during a time when Puritanistic beliefs, stating that a person's life should be devoted to God, changed. Suddenly the desire for money and personal gain was springing up. In the story, readers see the same change happen to Tom. Tom fights change at first, but he gives in to the greed that caused his wife's death. Love for greed changes his focus. Irving uses words, such as "sterility" and "famine," giving the reader a distinct visual of a love-starved Tom. In an empty, romantic spot in his mind, perhaps he wonders what would happen if he made a deal with the devil.
A love for the supernatural and the paranormal is evident in "The Devil and Tom Walker." The supernatural elements appeal to emotional desires rather than to reason. The devil offers answers to problems that Tom and his wife are facing, answers that appeal to the imagination and desires of the couple and that the real world cannot offer. The devil offers an opportunity to explore all the couple's desires within their imagination. The devil offers a romantic element to the story, for he loves his reputation and wants to continue his legacy.
Much like the devil, Tom's wife has a love affair with herself, and her dream is to achieve more. She is unhappy with her reality. The situation the devil presents is more than she can ignore, no matter the cost. She is so lost in her infatuation and imaginings that she moves through the story as if in a daze. Irving compares her to the devil early in the story. Irving presents the wife and the devil as the perfect pair. Even in death, she gets what she wants, which was a way out of what she was -- though it was a supernatural way.