Heroes are often remembered as larger than life. In "The Devil and Daniel Webster", Stephen Vincent Benet portrays "Dan'l" Webster as larger than life. In fact, Dan'l is portrayed as the biggest man in the country who is trusted right next to God Almighty (187). The essence of heroism is captured when a genuine American hero is re-created into a mythological superhero that puts his own soul at risk when he saves the soul of an ordinary man (188, 192). Benet tells the story of how a man who can make stars and stripes come right out of the sky when he speaks, defends an extremely unlucky New England farmer named Jabez Stone. Jabez makes a deal with the devil to change his hard luck (197-198). Even though he has extraordinary failures, Stephen Benet presents Jabez Stone as an ordinary man. His perpetual misfortune is burdensome on his weary mind.
Finally, Jabez gets frustrated with the poor condition of his animals, his sick and hungry children, and his unproductive crops. He inadvertently summons the Devil and makes a deal with him (188-189). The deal stipulates that Jabez would have great success in all his undertakings, and that in seven years time he would relinquish his soul to the Devil; known in this story as "Scratch" (194).
Jabez becomes very prosperous, but there exists an underlying anxiety deep inside that grows with each passing year. Jabez' anxiety turns to sick horror as a moth-like creature desperately pleads to him for help. Jabez soon learns that the creature that had fluttered out of the Devil's black pocketbook is the soul of his spry mean neighbor; Miser Steven (190-191). Like Jabez, frustrated ordinary people feel dismay when bad judgement leads them to making the wrong decision. Although the unfortunate few like Jabez usually know the consequences of a bargain, they often search out someone to relieve their hapless situation. Jabez seeks the help of statesman Dan'l Webster; his Country's hero (191).
America's love for folklore and legend lives on as Stephen Benet again portrays Dan'l Webster as a mythological being. For example, as Jabez arrives in Marshfield to ask for help, Dan'l is talking Latin to his farmhands and wrestling with the ram, Goliath, and trying out a new trotter and working up speeches to make against John C. Calhoun (192). Dan'l drops everything he is doing when Jabez arrives. This story conveys that true heroes are there when they are needed. Therefore, Dan'l agrees to help Jabez, if he can, for Dan'l believes that "if two New Hampshiremen aren't a match for the Devil, we might as well give the country back to the Indians" (192). The story is praise not only for Dan'l Webster, however, but also for his country, for the two are bound together. For example, if you go to his grave, he will ask you "Neighbor, how stands the Union?" (187).
Having acquired the help of Dan'l Webster, and now awaiting the Devil's knock on the door, Jabez becomes frantic. He did not want the Devil to get the Union's stay and New Hampshire's pride. He desperately begs Dan'l to save his own soul, and to leave (193). However, Dan'l showed true heroism by staying until the very end. The Devil arrives; arguments begin, and Dan'l finally demands a trial (194-195). Before a jury of scoundrels, statesman Dan'l Webster steps in and defends the man's soul. Dan'l turns to Jabez Stone and shows him as he was - an ordinary man who'd had hard luck and wanted to change it. Because he wanted to change his hard luck, he was now going to be punished for all eternity (198). This is what leads to Webster's strong point for his defense of Jabez. Even though people may seem to be cruel and hard on the outside, as were the jury, they are still human and have a soft spot somewhere in their heart. In the end, Dan'l wins for Jabez stone his freedom and makes the Devil put in writing that no New Hampshireman will be bothered by him again until doomsday (198-199). However, if you are ever tempted to sell your soul to the Devil, best remember the Devil does not play fair, never has, never will. If you still insist on selling though, better locate a Dan'l Webster first, just in case.