Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle Analysis

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Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle, lived in nineteenth century America. He is famous for his works Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His use of imagery and symbolism are strong in both pieces of literature and helps the reader truly feel connected to the story.

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Rip Van Winkle is about good-natured man of Dutch descendance. He was always amusing to the children in the neighborhood and eager to help those around him. Rip’s life is falling apart, his farm went under, his children run free, and his wife has a bad temper. Rip is then offered a drink and falls into a deep sleep. He awakes years later and is soothed to learn of his wife’s death. Although Rip slips back into his old ways, he struggles to find is way in the nation post-revolution. The story is set in the Catskill Mountains. Irving uses multiple symbol and examples of imagery to make his story come to life for the reader. Irving uses imagery to make the reader feel like they are in the story and as if they are somehow connected to Rip Van Winkle.

The first example of imagery that Irving uses is how well he describes the mountains in the story. The line ”When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple…when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.” (Irving, pg. 1) paints a starting picture of the scenery in the readers mind. When reading the quote, my mind when directly to the mountains and I could see the setting perfectly. Robert Ellis stated that this is “The rather brief scene in which the mountains become the setting for fantasy is sandwiched between two thicker slices of late eighteenth century American village reality.”(Ellis, p. 2) By using his kind of imagery in the very beginning of the story, Irving draws the reader in and gives them a sense of fantasy. This type of imagery also connects the reader and makes them want to read more. Irving also uses the quote “The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall, over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest.” (Irving, pg. 25).

Here Irving uses another example of imagery to really keep the reader involved and to let them see into the story and setting so that the reader wants to read more and see where the story takes them. Another very important thing that Irving uses is symbolism. By using symbolism Irving creates a question in the readers mind and gives them something to think about not just while reading the book, but also after. The first symbol that stuck out to me was the symbol of change. The hotel was a symbol for the change that had occurred during the story. It made the reader realize just how much Rip had missed in the twenty years he was asleep. Irving shows to the reader that “change is inevitable and that one pays a huge price by trying to evade it.” (Theodore, p. 1)

The Flagon of Drink is a symbol of Rip’s wanting to avoid change. At first the drink seems strange but after Rip wakes up it becomes more clear to the reader that the drink was Rip’s way of avoiding the change of the world. Once Rip wakes up, he has to face the fact that the change was inevitable and would happen whether he was awake or asleep. By using these examples of symbolism Irving leaves the reader with things to think about after they finish reading the story and also keeps them entertained while reading the story. Irving knew exactly what he was doing while writing Rip Van Winkle.

He used an excellent combination of imagery and symbolism to not only draw readers into the story, but also to keep them thinking about the story after they’re done reading. By using the examples of imagery stated above he truly drew a picture in the readers head and makes them feel as if they were in the story. By using the described symbols, Irving gave the readers something to think about while reading the story. The symbols also brought the story to life and makes the reader feels as if it is a story that could happen in real life. In using these examples of symbols and imagery, Irving created a story that is entertaining to the reader.

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Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle Analysis. (2020, Dec 16). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from

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