The Devil & Tom Walker

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Irving's career and work is best best understood in the context of the enormous cultural and ideological alteration transforming the new nation at the time. By the 1820's, the United States had finalized it's second war with Britain, and the country was expanding by the ideas of Manifest Destiny. The population went from a little over five million, to a nine and a half million in twenty years. With the population increasing, still, 97% of Americans lived in rural communities. By the 1850's, the population reached to 21 million. Also, inventions such as the steamboat, the cotton gin, the telegraph, and eventually the railroad, all were factors that contributed to the spurred industrial growth. But, Irving was, "an unqualified believer in the popular notions of progress and expansion" (Piedmont-Marton). He spent most of his time reading British literary models, and living outside the United States because, "he believed that the only hope for American culture was to attach itself to the traditions of Britain" (Piedmont-Marton). When he moved to England, Tales of a Traveller was written, and published. Irving enjoyed a enormous audience and had constituted a reputation for charm and civility, something that was found in Britain, not America. Irving felt that American culture was more closely tied to the values of the Old World, and that writing harkened back to an older time, before materialism and commercialism became leading ideals in the emanate American society. One critic, Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton, proposes that, "The Devil and Tom Walker is hardly a new Eden, unspoiled and uncorrupt. Rather the fictional landscape of The Devil and Tom Walker seems haunted by events of the past and infused by Irving's occasionally biting satire." Inspired by events in the past, Irving infuses them into his stories, which effects the ways the characters are portrayed, how the story is told, and how the themes are infused in by characterization.

One critic, Charles G. Zug...
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