Rip Van Winkle Analysis
by Washington Irving

Rip Van Winkle book cover
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“Rip Van Winkle” was published among several other popular short stories in Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., in 1819 and 1820. Rich topics of analysis include narrative style, setting, and historical background. Irving’s narrative style highlights the question of reliability through a removed narrator and simple yet stark prose. Irving’s use of setting and historical background highlights the uniquely American aspects of “Rip Van Winkle” while clarifying the divide between old and new America after the Revolution.

Narrative Style

Irving’s narrative style blends simplistic prose, a factual tone, and an unreliable narrator to create a story that is caught between fact and fiction. Irving uses the narrator, the amiable Geoffrey Crayon, to share the story of “Rip Van Winkle.” However, Irving adds another layer with the introduction of the historian Diedrich Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker is yet another degree of separation from Rip Van Winkle, who purportedly experienced the events. Irving employs this separated narrative style in his other short stories within The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The history and actual truth of “Rip Van Winkle” is unclear, even though it is credited to apparently viable sources. The narrative acts as a multi-sourced story, asking readers to believe its truth because it has many authors.

These layers of narration place the central narrative into a frame. Rip’s story begins with a quotation and an excerpt explaining Diedrich Knickerbocker's findings. It ends with an excerpt about Native American lore and a postscript by Diedrich Knickerbocker. This framing detracts from the reliability of the narrative. Diedrich Knickerbocker’s excerpts are supposed to add truth and background to Rip’s story. The dramatic quotation lends the story a “mock-heroic” beginning. This dramatizes Irving’s simple prose and the sometimes absurd story of Rip Van Winkle. The addition of the Native American lore, on the other hand, adds a historical and uniquely American element. “Rip Van Winkle," however, ignores the impacts of colonialism and the American Revolution on Native Americans.

Irving’s simple prose is also a large factor in his narrative style. Rip’s mystical journey is presented clearly and factually. This straightforward writing allows the story to be accessible to most readers, lending to its popularity. It helps readers to grasp the odd and potentially difficult parts of “Rip Van Winkle.” Irving’s narrative style also tends to combine absurdity with seriousness. For example, Rip wanders into the forest and encounters magical spirits. These spirits, however, are solemnly playing nine pin, a bowling-style game. The solemnity of the men, who are playing a pleasurable game and drinking beer, confuses Rip Van Winkle. Their lighthearted actions don't match their silence or their deadpan faces, giving them an inhuman quality.


The setting of “Rip Van Winkle” showcases the sometimes adverse effects of change. Rip begins his story in his village, a colony of New Netherland under the rule of Britain, located in the northeastern United States. The village is described as quaint and still connected to its Dutch heritage. The changes that take place in the village and among the villagers show Rip’s personal progression. He moves from being a well-known and loved man to being a complete stranger whom the villagers distrust at first. The change in the villagers’ knowledge of Rip show a distinct shift from the small, rural village to a bustling, excitable town.

The village also is also the locus of familial and political changes. Rip’s house, which he finds abandoned and decrepit after his long sleep, embodies the breakage from his family and from his wife. He admits that his wife had kept the house neat and orderly. This shows that Rip's life before his disappearance had a domestic aspect with some sense of order; now, it is in shambles and...

(The entire section is 1,204 words.)