The Faust Legend in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature

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SWBAT demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics by comparing two versions of the Faust Legend.

Big Idea

Old Scratch itches for some soul.


This lesson students will see how several themes are portrayed in two different works.  "The Devil and Tom Walker" is a nineteenth century text which presents a version of the Faust Legend, a German folktale written by Goethe.  After reading the short story, we will take a look at a later version of the Faust Legend written in the 1930s by Stephen Vincent Benet.  Both stories reflect the time period in which they were written.  For example, we get a glimpse of cultural details of the Pilgrims in Washington Irving's work and a look at the negative view of wealth in Benet's version, which was written during the Great Depression.

This lesson contains various scaffolds to assist students in recognizing how themes are portrayed in each work. Essentially, by the end of the lesson, students will see two versions of the Faust Legend, and they will understand how religion and logic are juxtaposed in each work.  Walker choses religion as his saving grace while Jabez Stone in the The Devil and Daniel Webster choses a more twentieth century tool:  due process (logic). 

Poetry Explication Projects Test

25 minutes

To ensure that students have extended their classmates their undivided attention, I am giving a test on the Poetry Explication Presentations.  It is open notebook, open packet.  Students were encouraged to mark up the poems with notes during the presentations.

Watch: The Devil and Daniel Webster

25 minutes

The purpose of this activity is for students to recognize the characteristics of the Faust Legend, which is the prominent theme in "The Devil and Tom Walker," in another work of literature.  Although each work was written about 100 years apart, both address the same elements of the Faust Legend.  The Common Core does call for an analysis of multiple interpretations of a work of literature through various media and how they relate to the source text.  I have been quite successful with this activity in guiding students to see the different versions of the Faust Legend as portrayed in each of these works.  They essential handle the same themes of regret, greed, and redemption.  The only difference exists with Tom Walker who is never redeemed. 

Accordingly, in this section, I have students watch the video version of The Devil and Daniel Webster, a play written in 1937 by Stephen Vincent Benet. To ensure student attention during the video, I have attached questions to ensure students understand the major points of the video.  They will need this knowledge to continue on with the remainder of the lesson.  Of course, depending on the class, the questions may be optional. 

In other sections of this lesson, students will compare and contrast the depiction of the Faust Legend in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and The Devil and Daniel Webster.

Faust Compare and Contrast

20 minutes

To facilitate a discussion on the portrayal of each version of the Faust Legend, students work in small groups assigned by the teacher to complete a Venn Diagram contrasting and comparing the Faust Legend in both "The Devil and Tom Walker" and in The Devil and Daniel Webster.  Students will look at the resolution in both works, the depiction of the devil, and the role of religion or saving grace in each work.

Additionally, students will have an opportunity to reflect on today's lesson.  They will write a reflection on how wealth is portrayed in both works and how the time period in which each work was written reflects that view of wealth.  For example, what do we learn about the Puritan's view of wealth and why would wealth have a negative portrayal in the 1930s?

Esentially, I want students to recognize that the Puritans viewed wealth as something evil and presided over by the devil.  In both works, the devil is depicted as a man not the stereotypical devil who wears red and has a forked tail.  The primary difference is Tom Walker tries to save himself through religion while Daniel Webster uses a more logical approach: he hires a lawyer.  This analysis demonstrates the difference in time periods.  Washington Irving wrote "Tom Walker" during the more religious period of the late eighteenth century while Stephen Vincent Benet's work is representative of twentieth century values: justice and a reliance of government.

Homework: Essay Assigned

To allow students a chance to articulate the differences and similarites, I have assigned an essay in which they compare and contrast the depiction of the Faust Legend in "The Devil and Tom Walker" and in The Devil and Daniel Webster.  They essentially will use the information on the Venn Diagram as their supporting evidence in noting the commonalities and differences between the two works.  I have attached a sample student diagram.  I usually give my students a week to complete an essay with one day designated for peer edits.