The Devil And Tom Walker: Imagery And Themes
How many times have you had an opinion or done something that went against what the majority was doing and faced criticisms for your differing beliefs? How many times have you had nightmares about being embarrassed publicly or everyone talking about you behind your back? Now, take all of those nightmares and imagine those fears happening in real life. This is exactly what happened in the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthrone, The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving and The Minister’s Black Veil also by Nathaniel Hawthrone. In the Scarlet Letter, the protagonist Hester is judged for committing an act that was deemed egregious in her society. In the Minister’s Black Veil, the highly esteemed minister arrives one day in a black veil that the townspeople believe is used to conceal his sinful deeds. In the Devil and Tom Walker, Tom Walker’s selfish motive to conduct a deal with the devil in an attempt to spite his wife causes townspeople to see Tom in a negative light. In all three stories, the author’s use of the Man vs Society conflict demonstrates the Romantic belief regarding the need to embrace the individual in order to disapprove of the condemnatory nature of society. Through this, the authors express the theme of how society rejects the unfamiliar in order to conform and accept the opinions of the majority.
First, throughout the book, the Man vs Society conflict that Hester Prynne faces proves the theme that society’s desire to conform causes the fear of the unknown which causes intolerant beliefs. Hester’s experience with society is much different than the experience that the normal Puritan woman would face. Hester is introduced as standing on the scaffold and clutching a baby by the scarlet letter on her chest that is “so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom” (Hawthrone 82). Hawthrone’s description of the beauty that Hester had made her letter out to be, serves as an example that Hester did not conform to the majority’s beliefs. She does not view the letter as a crutch but rather makes the best of the object meant to bring her down. Hawthrone also gives the point-of-view to “a crowd of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the matter in hand, [..]turning their heads continually to stare into her face and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast” (Hawthrone 83). Hawthrone references how the children, despite being completely oblivious to the meaning of the letter are so intrigued by the letter’s elegance that they cannot stop staring at it. This quote serves to show how the letter is the first thing that people see when approaching Hester. Next, Hawthrone describes how the townspeople ostracized Hester due to the letter that makes her an individual. Her seeming acceptance of the letter by embroidering it to look beautiful is not what the strict Puritan society expects her to do. In the book, Hawthrone writes, “the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin” (Hawthrone 118). Through this description of the crowd’s point of view, Hawthrone describes Hester as an individual and suggests that Hester’s difficulties with the townspeople and challenges with the Puritan way of life are caused by her choices that differ from the societies’ norms. The townspeople in this book, disregard the sins that they may have committed and enjoyed using the symbol that makes Hester different to repudiate her and make her seem like an egregious being. This, similar to the conflict in the Minister’s Black Veil shows how the townspeople disregard their problems in order to focus on Hooper’s veil rather than their own lives.
Next, in the Minister’s Black Veil, the Man vs Society conflict that Minister Hooper faces proves the theme that societies desire to conform to the majority’s beliefs causes the fear of the unknown which causes intolerant beliefs is shown through the townspeople’s opinions and love for Minister Hooper changing after he alters his appearance by bearing a black veil. The Minister’s Black Veil describes the veil as a symbol of sin that society doesn’t wish to regard. Hawthrone describes the protagonist, Minister Hooper as ‘a good preacher’ who tries to lead his congregation ‘by mild persuasive influences’ rather than through fear and threats of damnation (Hawthrone 3). This characterization serves to abolish any suspicious that the experiences that Hooper’s faces have anything to do with his character but rather is based entirely on the fact that he is judged by the veil that covers his face. The author mentions a minor character who, on the day that Hooper first wears the veil, dies. Hawthrone writes that as “he stooped, the veil hung straight down from his forehead, so that, if her eyelids had not been closed forever, the dead maiden might have seen his face” (Hawthrone 5) The author uses the quote to suggest that the day the Minister sported the veil, things began to change– including how he was viewed by society as they all agreed that the veil had a sinister connotation connected it to it. Upon seeing and hearing news about Hooper’s veil, the townspeople react negatively. Hawthrone describes the confusion and pale faces of the congregation to be “as fearful a sight to the minister, as his black veil to them”(Hawthrone 3). The author provides details showing how the veil “in the sentiment of the discourse itself, or in the imagination of the auditors, made it greatly the most powerful effort that they had ever heard from their pastor’s lips”. This shows how the veil, despite improving Hooper’s sermons, serves as an unfamiliar object to the people cause them to form opinions about Hooper merely because everyone else has the same belief. Through these conflicts, the author demonstrates the theme by using external conflicts in a way similar to the conflicts in The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving.
The theme of society rejecting the unfamiliar in an attempt is shown in the Devil and Tom Walker as the author uses Tom and his wife’s deceitful and greedy nature to show how Tom is an individual who drastically differs from the nature of the typical societal beliefs. Irving describes Tom as living in isolation in a “forlorn-looking house that stood alone and had an air of starvation” and being a “measer, miserly fellow” with a “wife as miserly as himself’ (Irving 322). The author elaborates on the couple’s desire to hoard things and hide things from each other as evidence to why events that occur late on happen in ways that they do. Tom’s wife is negatively described as always trying to spite Tom– but as the book ends the author conveys Tom as a person, far worse than his wife was described to be. Mr. and Mrs. Walker are both clearly individualistic which results in them living separately from the rest of society, as Hester did in the Scarlet Letter. The author describes the couple as by describing the house and “its inmates had altogether a bad name. Tom’s wife was a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm” (Irving 322). Irving has Tom wander off into the woods and encountering a man who was “neither negro nor Indian” (Irving 323). The devil attempts to make a deal with Mr. Walker who declines the offer, in order to spite his wife who desperately wants to attain the riches that come with the deal. Irving has Tom’s wife attempt to meet the devil and fail– miserably. Irving describes Tom’s reaction as nonchalant. If fact, he goes without several days without a problem, until he decides to take action. He goes off back to the forest and in hopes of finding his valuables with his wife but instead finds her apron with something bundled inside. As Irving writes, Tom “leaped with joy, for he recognized his wife’s apron, and supposed it to contain the household valuables” (Irving 328). At the end of the novel, Irving suggests that Tom receives his fate by attempting to cheat the devil. Irving states that Tom, “by thought with regret of the bargain he had made with his black friend, set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent church-goer” (Irving 330). Similarly to his wife’s attempt to cheating the devil, Irving describes Tom’s attempt as ending with him dead. The townspeople react by “shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders.” Irving states that they had “but had been so much accustomed to witches and goblins, and tricks of the devil, in all kinds of shapes, from the first settlement of the colony, that they were not so much horror-struck as might have been expected” (Irving 332). The people around Tom grow to dislike Tom as he doesn’t earn money the way that the regular townspeople do but rather hopes to get rich quickly by cheating people. When Tom gets his karma, the good people do not care. They come together and form their opinions of Tom and judge him, as his choices landed him into receiving his karma.
In conclusion, people attempting to conform to certain beliefs in order to fit in causes society to reject the unfamiliar. These three novels show how each character faces prejudice, negative outcomes or are made to be scapegoats due to their ideologies or actions. Tom Walker is judged by society for his excessively greedy nature but they are unaware of why his actions were done. They do not care but rather judge him for what he did. In the Minister’s Black Veil, Minister Hooper is judged for his choice to veil himself. The townspeople believe that his choice is unusual, so instead of trying to understand his decision, they gossip that he is hiding a sin. In the Scarlet Letter, Hester faces bullying from her own people by a crime that her society deemed egregious. All three stories have societies reject the protagonists in each story. These stories all have a common desire, establishing the Romantic belief regarding the need to embrace the individual in order to disapprove of the condemnatory nature of society.
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