How Does Washington Irving Establish a Sense of the American Landscape History and Identity?

Washington Irving is a prominent figure in American literature and is considered the first American writer to gain international fame. His work often highlights the American landscape and history, which helps establish a sense of identity for the country. In this article, we will discuss how Washington Irving establishes a sense of the American landscape, history, and identity in his literary works.

The American Landscape

Irving was fascinated by the beauty of the American landscape, which he believed was unique and different from that of Europe. In his work, he frequently describes the natural scenery in detail, creating a vivid image in the reader’s mind.

For instance, in his short story “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving writes:

“The Kaatskill Mountains had always been a region full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits; they were full of wild and supernatural sights and sounds.”

This passage not only describes the physical features of the mountains but also highlights their cultural significance to Native Americans. By doing so, Irving creates a connection between nature and culture that is uniquely American.

The American History

In addition to highlighting the natural beauty of America’s landscape, Irving also incorporates historical events into his works to establish a sense of identity for Americans. For example, in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Irving references the Revolutionary War by mentioning that Ichabod Crane was a schoolteacher who taught children about George Washington.

“He was an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity. His appetite for the marvellous .

. . brought him into acquaintance with every out-of-the-way character in [the] vicinity; from Parson Weems . down to Tony Lumpkin. “

By referencing historical figures like Parson Weems (who wrote George Washington’s early biography) and Tony Lumpkin (a character from an English play), Irving creates a sense of continuity between America’s past and present.

The American Identity

Finally, Irving’s works also establish a unique American identity by celebrating the country’s diversity. In “The Sketch Book,” Irving writes about his travels in the United States and notes that Americans come from all walks of life.

“I have always been fond of visiting new scenes and observing strange characters and manners. Even when a mere child I began my travels, and made many tours of discovery into foreign parts and unknown regions of my native city.”

By emphasizing the diversity of America, Irving highlights the country’s strength as a melting pot of different cultures. This message is particularly relevant today, as America continues to grapple with issues of diversity and inclusion.


In conclusion, Washington Irving’s literary works establish a sense of the American landscape, history, and identity through his descriptions of nature, incorporation of historical events, and celebration of diversity. By doing so, Irving helped shape American literature and culture for generations to come.