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Washington Irving’s world view and his portrayal of colonial New York

For the most part of Washington Irving’s life, he was a constant traveler influenced perhaps by his early readings on books that largely cover topics such as voyages and travels. He took up several positions, working as a partner along with his siblings in the hardware business owned by their family, as a practicing lawyer, and as a representative of the English business among many others. His writing career began back in the days when he started to write in newspapers as well as in journals.

Later on in his life Irving would soon write several books that would eventually become a part of the history of America, one of which is the well-known The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Irving’s worldview and portrayals of colonial New York Portraying the general character of individuals living in Manhattan during the early parts of the nineteenth century as “overdo everything while keeping a straight face, and always pretend to be bigger than you are”, Washington Irving is clearly indicative of his worldview and portrayal of colonial New York (Burstein, 2007).

The principle behind the statement points to us the implication that New York during those times was filled with people struggling to elevate their social status amidst the vastness of the sprawling area in its formative years. Accepting New York for what it truthfully was, Irving undoubtedly had a strong passion for his “Manna-hata” as well as his perception of the world that he derived from his feelings for “provincial” New York (Burstein, 2007).

Unlike the rest of his contemporaries, especially the best brains after the period of Revolution, Irving had a keen eye for New York and a strong sense of attachment to it as he first wrote about the locality that inspired him. Although Irving spent seventeen years in European soils, some of his writing reflected the state of the Native American Indians under the Dutch colonizers.

In Irving’s A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, he feigns the justification for the rights of the Dutch settlers in displacing the natives as part of his unfavorable and resentful attitude towards the Dutch colonizers. A clear delineation can be observed and further amplified in his “Traits of Indian Character”. Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, on the other hand, is one of his earlier writings that illustrate the American woman more of as a “cultural villain”, portrayed in the story as the nagging and unloving wife to her husband.

Quite noticeable in the story as well is Rip Van Winkles fleeting feeling towards the death of his wife upon knowing it twenty years after he left. Kenneth Reed observes that Irving’s attitude towards slavery in general and the Negro in particular bears little concern as he was not that willing to display a hint of regard to the various issues that revolve around the plight of the slave Negroes (Reed, 1970).

Yet, it can be observed that hues of the lives of these “wretched slaves” reflected nevertheless in several of Irving’s writings such as in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow where a Negro is depicted ridiculously delivering an important message. Another telling scene in the book is where he “endorsed the myth of the happy and contented slave” in the story of the Ichabod Crane. On the subject of education, one can find Irving’s concern on the act of educating the masses especially the poor in his English Writers in America.

He maintains that because of the “absolute control” of the press over the Americans, every person can actually become a reader and, hence, universal education can be achieved. It can be seen that the role of the writers, as Irving himself is one, and of the press in general plays a large contribution to the education of the people. Thus, education is deemed as a good element in the development of the society. Among the number of the writings of Irving, his Rip Van Winkle stands as one of the most famous characters ever to be told in literature.

With the story amply focusing on the life of the character with subtle hints of related events distributed in the story, one can observe that his wife is portrayed typical to that of a villain. By placing together the main behaviors of the two characters in the story’s context, the major differences can be easily pointed out. These same set of differences is indicative of the role of each respective character in the development of the plot.

In essence, one can comprehend the observation that Irving favors the city life over the country life in the sense that his firm grasps of the life in Manhattan has directly influenced his perception of the world although apparently some of his writings reflect the life of individuals in the country. Nevertheless, he has endorsed the perception that life in the city is no small deal. This attitude, thus, indicates the strong reason for one to believe that, although life in the city is no easy task, the life in the city has several things to offer that cannot be exactly found in the country. Conclusion

It cannot be denied that Washington Irving was a constant traveler during his times. His travels to Europe and his return to America is one of the most crucial events in his life that shaped his world view. Colonial New York is his home, and that his heart did not find its place among the streets and cities of Europe back in those days.


Burstein, A. (2007). New York’s Lost Past: 1783-1803. In The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving (First ed. , pp. 3-4). New York: Basic Books. Reed, K. T. (1970). Washington Irving and the Negro. Negro American Literature Forum, 4(2), 43-44.

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