The Devil and Daniel Webster

Stephen Vincent Benét
was born in 1898 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His education
came from Yale University and the Sorbonne in Paris,
France. "The Devil and Daniel Webster" has a wide array of
characters, each with a distinguished personality, yet an
overall temperment that would be fitting of a New England
community. The main character is Jabez Stone, a wealthy
New England statesman whose possition was the state
senator of New Hampshire. He had started out as a farmer
though, but moved up in life and, when he was about thirty
years of age, married the fair woman, Mary Stone- who was
in her early twenties. The fiddler, though not incredibly
important, was a key character in that he provided
foreshadowing. When he said, "But the very devil\'s got into
that fiddle of mine.", he was forshadowing the coming of the
devil to disturb the merriments. A very key character in this
play is the devil himself, which took the name of Scratch (for
that was what he was called in New England communities).
He had come to steal the soul of Jabez Stone, claiming that
he had a right to Jabez because of a legal contract. Last- but
nost certainly not least in this story- is the great Governor of
New Hampshire, loved by all, Daniel Webster. Daniel
Webster was not only the governor, but an excelent orator.
He had a way of using words to pursued the opinion of
others, sometimes by conveying feelings or emotion. The
play starts out in the ornate home of Jabez and Mary Stone,
right after their wedding has taken place. The Fiddler, who
sat upon a Cider Barrel, played a tune on the Fiddle, and all
of the guests danced to it. Basically, it was a wedding
reception. At first, there was nothing more than small talk
going on, but by using even this smalltalk, Benét very
accurately described the lifestyles of the New England
residents. As the play progressed, political favor of the day
was expressed as Daniel Webster arived, associating himself
with Jabez Stone. One man cried out, "Vote the Whig
ticket!" and another, "Hurray for Daniel Webster!" Of
course, political disfavor was also shown, as Scratch (the
devil) portreyed himself as a lawyer from Boston, implying
that the political party from Boston was disfavored. Later
on, after some forshadowing by both Jabez and Mary, it is
learned that Jabez had sold his soul to the devil. He had
done this because of the dessolite land he had to farm, it was
entirely baren, and had an abundance of large stones there.
In return, the devil brought him prosperity- for a time. Jabez
had become state senator, married a wonderful woman, and
had friends in high places. But it did not last forever. A small
climax- more like a turning point- occurred when Scratch
had driven all the guests away from fear. He then left for a
short time, preparing to come back at a later time to reclaim
his "prize". Daniel Webster, however, felt confidant that he
could defeat Scratch in a fair trial and/or debate. As it turned
out, both happened. When Scratch came back, they had a
trial- a trial with a biased jury of the undead. A great oratory
debate soon followed between Scratch and Daniel Webster.
It was a fierce debate, though it did remain civil. Webster
used his cunning intellect against Scratch, but in every case,
either Scratch would refute his claim, or the judge at this
trial, Judge Hawthorne of the Salem Witch Trials, would
over-rule Daniel Webster- no matter how logical he had
been. For instance, when Daniel Webster claimed that "Mr.
Stone is an American citizen, and American citizen may be
forced into the service of a foreign prince.", the devil replied
that he was no foreigner with "...when the first wrong was
done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put
out for the Congo, I stood on her deck...". Such a trial was
impossible to win, until Daniel Webster used his words to
bring back memories of the undead jury- of when they had
been alive and human. He appealed to them, one by one,
and slowly changed the sway of the biased jury of the
undead. In the end, the verdict was "not guilty", and old
Scratch was finally flung out the door. Overall, I thoroughly
enjoyed this play by Stephen Vincent Benét, and I would
recommend reading it.

Category: Book Reports