Characterization in "The Devil and Tom Walker"

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SWBAT analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama through an understanding of indirect and direct characterization and third person point of view..

Big Idea

Old Scratch and a termagant wife add to Tom Walker's travails.


In this lesson, we begin looking at some additional forms of Gothic literature.  "The Devil and Tom Walker" is an early version of Gothic literature written by Washington Irving.  It is a challenging nineteenth century text, but it is a great opportunity to review some reading strategies to help students negotiate the text.  Specifically, I review breaking down long sentences.  Also, I like to stress that nineteenth century vocabulary can be challenging as well because some of the words are no longer used that often. 

This leg of the lesson looks at characterization; the second part of the lesson will examine the characteristics of the Faust Legend.  We will read the story and then watch a video of "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benet, which is another take on the German folktale.

I first begin with a PowerPoint on Washington Irving and the Faust Legend.  Obviously, students' comprehension of the story will be more in-depth gaining some background information on the underlying archetype in this work.  "The Devil and Tom Walker" is a quintessential early American piece of literature that demonstrates good versus evil.

The reading check associated with the story has a very practical purpose:  to ensure students are engaged and understand what they read.  My decision as to whether to read to the class or do a round-robin read depends on the aptitude of the class.  Sometimes reading becomes a classroom management issue if I have a class of low level readers.  I then read to them so that they can see how I pronounce words, use inflectio, etc.  I often stop periodically to answer the questions as we read.  I will call on students or pull popsicle sticks to solicit student responses.  This activity also allows me to determine if the class is fully comprehending what they read.  For more advanced classes, I may stop for a few minutes and ask students to answer a few questions independently and then review.  This breaks the monotony of the reading. My experience has been that the reading check prevents students from drifting during the reading.

My final activity is to take a look at the differences between indirect and direct characterization.  This part of the lesson is the tie-in to my primary objective, which is to analyze Irving's use of indirect and direct characterization.  The characterization graphic organizer is Common Core aligned in that it requires students to associate character traits, borth directly stated and inferred, to specific lines of text.



Poetry Explication Presentations

20 minutes

After explicating their assigned poem and preparing a visual representation such as a PowerPoint or Prezi, I will invite students to present their projects to the class.  The class will take notes on the projects and be ready to take an open notebook test on them when the presentations are complete.

The test will be in the next lesson.

Notes: Washington Irving and "The Devil and Tom Walker"

10 minutes

I review the following PowerPoint with the focus of introducing students to the Faust Legend, the German folktale about a man who sells his soul to the devil.  This archetype is prevalent in many works of American literature. 

I also want to focus on specific cultural details that can be inferred about a particular group of people from a work of literature.  In this case, we learn much about the early Puritans, including their belief in the devil as an actual person walking the earth.

Read "The Devil and Tom Walker"

25 minutes

In a round robin read that may or may not be prompted by popsicle sticks, students read the short story and answer the guided reading questions to check for understanding.  Special attention will be focused on the characteristics of the Faust Legend and the differences between direct and indirect characterization.  The attached Guided Reading Check is to ensure that students are attentive and understanding important elements of the story.  I occasionally stop and ask students to answer a few questions.  They go in order of the story.  For a class that is advanced, I may ask students to get with a partner and answer the questions that we have just covered in the story.  This can break the monotony of sitting and reading.  For more challenging classes, we answer the questions whole class.  Students will turn in the questions at the end of the story.  This helps to keep them accountable and paying attention.  The questions always keep students engaged, especially if they know they have to turn them in.

Characterization Exercise: "The Devil and Tom Walker"

20 minutes

In this exercise, I want students to be able to differentiate between third person characterization and first person.  I want them to see how the narrator is able to get inside the head of Tom Walker and company in this story. Also, I want them to know the difference between indirect and direct characterization.  Students usually have some difficulty with this exericse because they find the prose of Washington Irving very challenging.  The main problem has to do with the fact that his sentences are very long.  In my notes, I review a reading startegy of breaking down long sentences.  However, I do circulate among the rows of students when they are working on this assignment.  They find it difficult to negotiate the text.  If you notice on the worksheet, I provide an example of what I'm looking for.  If need be, I may do this exercise whole-class.  However, I do like students to make an attempt before I give up the ship.


For homework to tie everything together and touch upon my Common Core Standard, I am assigning students to write a one-page reflection exploring how Washington Irving uses characterization to retell his version of the Faust legend.  Specifically, I want students to consider the following:

Why does Irving create a volatile or tempestuous relationship between Tom Walker and his wife?

How does this relationship fit into his version of the Faust legend?

How does the characterization of the devil compare to modern versions?

Which form of characterization do you find more effective in relaying information about a character?