Washington Irving sought to give his tales some of the traditional sense of the old German folk tales. Here are examples of different tones that Irving employs in "Rip van Winkle":
- A lyrical Romantic tone
In his description of the Kaatskill Mountains, Irving writes lyrically of
...magical hues and shapes....When the weather is fair and settled they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outline on the clear evening sky; but sometimes...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.
- A comical/satirical tone
The relationship of Rip van Winkle with his wife is certainly one that evokes chuckles from readers. The indolent Rip is rousted continually from his comfortable seat at the inn where he smokes his pipe, letting the "fragrant vapor curl" around his nose and pushed out as she chides him for his idleness.
Dame van Winkle is also a character that Irving employs in order to satirize the Puritan as she lacks any flexibility and humor in her voice of duty in a sort of comedy of manners.
Another instance of satire occurs after Rip awakens and returns to his village where, after twenty years, he finds himself alienated. When he professes to be a "loyal subject of King George, he is castigated as "A Tory! a Tory! a spy! a Refugee!" Then, Irving depicts the only other change having resulted from the American Revolution as being a portrait in the tavern having switched from one George--the king of England--to another George--President Washington. Of course, the implication here is that the Colonists simply switched from one leader to another.
- A nostalgic tone
In his descriptions of the final scenes, Rip feels terribly out of place. and Irving satirizes the post-revolutionary scene. At the same time, the Romantic Irving expresses a nostalgia for the earlier times of calm and the natural beauty of the colonial village when Rip
... took his place once more on the bench at the inn door and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village and a chronicle of the old times "before the war."