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The Devil and Tom Walker and The Mulatto are two short stories that both contemplate the topic of human nature. Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker portray the devil as a figure that encourages moral decay and ethical corrosion. However, Victor Sejour’s The Mulatto is less mystical and transcendental and more focused on the ugly side of human nature and its transmission to other individuals through experience. While both Sejour and Irving achieved the goal of highlighting human flaws and weaknesses, the authors chose different strategies to portray those aspects. Nevertheless, both stories depict greed as a drive for immorality and corrupted behavior.
The Devil and Tom Walker. Greed for Money
The Devil and Tom Walker depict a corrupted man named Tom Walker, who is eager to sell himself in exchange for the treasure that the devil has promised him. While the devil is the driving factor in the story, Tom Walker is initially flawed even before encountering corrupting evil. The author points out that even his surroundings were distorted, saying that ” the house and its inmates had altogether a bad name” (Irving 1).
This quote illustrates the intrinsic hostility and misery that Tom Walker shows through his behavior and way of life. When the devil disguises himself as a lumberjack (Old Scratch), he convinces Walker to sell his soul in return for the treasure. It is pointed out that “these he offered to place within Tom Walker’s reach” (Irving 2). While the devil is the source of Tom’s subsequent unhappiness and, presumably, death, he is not the initial perpetrator since the main character was already exuding negative traits. According to Lambie and Haugen, greed is a “dispositional motivational trait” (38). Greed drove Tom further, causing his immoral and corrupt behavior to flourish as Walker began giving in on his evil desires.
The Mulatto’s main character is Georges, a child born from the nonconsensual relationship between the slave mother and the master. Georges never knew who his father was, learning the truth after he had already murdered him. Later, it is suggested that he commits suicide when “the body of the unfortunate Georges was found near Alfred’s body”(Sejour 15). Goerges, although having a family of his own, wanted revenge on his former master, who had ” like him, a wife and a son” (Sejour 12).
According to researchers, greed “might include a desire for sex, privilege, or control” (Lambie and Haugen 33). His father, Alfred, was greedy for control, which is suggested by how atrociously he treated Georges’s wife and mother. Georges, on the other hand, was greedy for revenge. He could not enjoy a happy life knowing that the person who wronged him still breathes. The greed for punishment and revenge corrupts his soul and drives him to commit an immoral crime that ultimately leads to his death. According to Schein and Gray, harm is an “intuitively perceived continuum” (1). In Gorges’s case, harm continued through generations, and it manifested as external and internal pain. Schein and Gray also point out that “specific “basic” emotions are linked to distinct moral foundations” (22). Greed for revenge, in this case, is linked to corrupted behavior and immoral actions that could be justified but ultimately causes the character to end his life in despair.
Both Irving and Sejour were able to depict greed as a force that leads to moral degradation. Greed is portrayed differently since Irving’s character is driven by money while Sejour’s is driven by revenge. However, the overpowering desire for something dark and ominous is present in both short stories. This desire leads to the death of both characters, which highlights its powerful nature that corrupts and damages. Both authors were able to externalize greed as a source of immorality and corrupted behavior by portraying characters that gave up on moral values in the name of their dark and sinister desires.
Irving, Washington. The Devil and Tom Walker. 1stBooks, 2000.
Lambie, Glenn W., and Jaimie Stickl Haugen. “Understanding Greed as a Unified Construct.” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 141, 2019, pp. 31–39. Web.
Schein, Chelsea, and Kurt Gray. “The Theory of Dyadic Morality: Reinventing Moral Judgment by Redefining Harm.” Personality and Social Psychology Review, vol. 22, no. 1, 2017, pp. 32–70. Web.
Séjour Victor. The Jew of Seville. University of Illinois Press, 2006.