Nature in Washington Irving’s “The Voyage” Research Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jun 24th, 2021


The sea, as the great power of nature, has always attracted authors, who embodied various stories in their literary works. People admire the sea, and they listen to the sound of the surf as a part of nature that simultaneously frightens and attracts by its beauty, strength, and unpredictability. The sea is an element that is rather difficult for a person to obey, and only strong and courageous people can fight it. The theme of the struggle between a man and the sea as the power of nature can be traced even in the ancient literature, drawing on the example of Odysseus challenges and Poseidon, the formidable ruler of the seas. This paper aims at interpreting Washington Irving’s The Voyage based on the concept of nature and its role in the novel. Although the sea power is great and everlasting, it allows the protagonist to realize his life through the prism of stories told by the crew members and the historical context of that time, thus reflecting on the significance of his own life and the connection between America and England.

The Sea as Continual Reverie

The image of the sea in The Voyage is largely associated with the continual reverie of a person about life. The author of the novel states that “it makes us conscious of being cast loose from the secure anchorage of settled life, and sent adrift upon a doubtful world” (Irving 14). Indeed, it seems that the author reasons the role of the journey on a larger scale, yet navigation in this literary piece is the main way of traveling and its integral part. The sea invariably places all the diversity of nature near the main character and opens his eyes to the thrill of life to promote wise expediency, grandeur, and harmony. The beauty of the sea and his native land as the representations of nature remain a source of inspiration.

The author represents the marine elements of living, all-feeling thinking is through the abundance of metaphors, epithets, and personifications. For example, the author uses such words to describe the sea as “vacancy,” “monotony,” “meditation,” and “continual reverie” (Irving 16). The sea remains a mystery to this American traveling to England. Meditations lead him to think about the similarity of life on earth and the life of the sea. The sea from earthly bondage stretches toward the sky in order to obtain the desired freedom. Only there, everything seems to be transparent and eternal.

The sea in The Voyage turns out to be a pictorial symbol of human life. The traditional allegorical image of the vital sea has turned into a symbolic romantic system of the author. The secret of the sea is its constant attraction to the objects on the horizon, the inner independence from people, reflection, and fierce protest against the hostile darkness that conceals pure heavenly grace as if fear of loss. Nature here presents a variety of emotions, images, and thoughts, serving as an instrument to achieve freedom. The protagonist looks at the sea with his eyes, he is between the two abysses, but with all his heart, he becomes imbued with the state of the elements to merge with them.

A Man Against Power of Nature

The night is the time that is often mentioned in this novel that should be noted in terms of nature. At night, nature, as never before, finds its kinship with the abyss of chaos – the ancestral home of all that exists. A person stops, amazed by the majestic spectacle shaken by the consciousness that it is so close to the state of his soul. Here, one can see an internal conflict between the elements of nature and the human consciousness. Nature lives by its own laws and will, but this will do not coincide with the personal will of a man. The contradiction between “sea” and “sail” symbolizes the contradiction between life in general and the human personality thrown into the sea. In particular, the sea is natural, great, and self-willed; it can be quiet and wild yet natural. Despite cultural or historical events, it remains powerful and unconquerable to people, thus attractive by its immensity.

One of the most representative parts of the identified novel is “The Captain’s Story,” told during the voyage. In particular, the main character describes how the captain of the ship was once encountered with an uncontrollable storm that wrecked everything on the board. In this regard, the image of the sea serves as the incarnation of chaos. It seems that the very purpose of telling this story is to show the isolation of a man in life. Like the sea journey, in which a person stands alone with nature, life is perceived as one’s lonely pilgrimage through sorrows and emptiness. The following words that end the novel clearly prove the above assumptions: “I alone was solitary and idle. I had no friend to meet, no cheering to receive. I stepped upon the land of my forefathers–but felt that I was a stranger in the land” (Irving 19). A man here is alone against the power of nature. This metaphor reflects the attitude of the author towards life and the place of a person in terms of nature.

In this novel, the main hero as if reconciles with the sea. His being, the “law” of his wanderings, is quite stable since the reader notes no movement and no peace, no desire for happiness, and no refusal from it. The experience and real feelings unified in contradictions beyond the intrinsically unresolved conflict explain the nature of the loneliness of this man thrown into the sea of life. Always restless and seeking freedom and significance, a person tries to use the power of the sea as well as that of nature to understand the very life. However, he cannot, like the natural elements, remain in a single state – rest or storm. The law of his life is a rebellion, and this is the only reality that he feels. The internal irreconcilability of contradictory feelings also generates external contradictions.

Another story that is worth noting is “The Sailor’s Arrival,” in which a woman cannot recognize her husband until he calls her. This sailor is so emaciated that his appearance changed significantly, and he is almost near death. The woman wrings her hands “in silent agony,” and the story ends (Irving 19). The short yet meaningful story illustrates a full range of emotions of the wife of the dying men. Even though he changed essentially, his wife’s face expressed the deepest sorrow when she hears his voice. She could not do anything in this situation and just remained silent after a brief scream. One may suggest that the very point of writing this story is to show how the sea may change a person and affect his or her further life. In this case, the sailor was defeated by the great power of nature.

Nature and the Historical Context

The sea and ships became symbols of the economy that appeared in the 19th century that was powerful, dangerous, and too unpredictable so that it could be controlled yet exciting. It is usually believed that the romantic movement in the literature rejected the balance of the neoclassicism of the eighteenth century, considering it to be mechanical and impersonal (Beers 102). The romantics turned to the immediacy of personal experience, individual imagination, and aspirations. In this regard, it is possible to assume that the sea is a symbol of the isolation between America and England.

Even though the two mentioned countries have much in common, they are still different. It goes without saying that English settlers were the first people who lived in the United States and spread their culture and traditions there. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, foreign policy remained the prerogative of the English royal power, and decisions were often made in secrecy by a narrow circle of people. Nevertheless, the government’s external and colonial policy was under strong public control, which, as a whole, grew during the mentioned period (Murray 207). In Britain’s foreign and colonial policies, there were such expressions as “perfidious Albion” or “to pull its own “chestnuts” out of the fire” that may be found both in the writings of historians and in modern historiography. The negative assessments of British foreign policy become clear in the context of the diplomatic struggles with America.

Reading The Voyage, it becomes evident that not only his own fate but also that of the whole country concerned the main character. The review of the related literature allows the reader to understand an isolationist trend in foreign policy, which was based on land interest and supported by many representatives of the Tory party. The isolationists argued that because of its geographical location, England could and should have avoided direct participation in foreign affairs or any of its allies (Lee 271). According to many supporters of this point of view, Britain should have been concentrated on the colonies, using its power to address challenges and achieve goals specific to them. At the same time, the interests of the American population were not taken into account as appropriate that deteriorated the gap between these countries.

In this connection, the sea acts as the dividing force that demonstrates the difference between America and England as well as their isolation from each other. Nevertheless, the sea also acts as the connecting element that has America on the one side and England on the other one. Along with isolation, it offers the opportunity of building stronger relationships and becoming closer. It is also essential to point out the fact that the sea is a symbol of the alignment of the past and present in the novel. In The Voyage, the parallels with the transformation of the economy are quite clear. The economies of the mentioned century, in which the trajectories of production, investment, and labor were generally considered to be pre-assigned and, therefore, cognizable, gave way to modern economies. In the latter, innovations constantly discover what exactly it is possible to produce, and decisions about investments reflect the imagination of entrepreneurs.

In view of the above observations, one should note that in The Voyage, the author wanted to present his thoughts regarding the changing world and the future of the two mentioned countries. Even though the future was uneven and seemed to be complicated, Irving tried to reflect the very epoch through the images of the sea as an integral part of nature. Thus, the political relationships and the economic features may be recognized in the given literary work.


To conclude, it should be emphasized that The Voyage by Irving focuses on the depiction of the sea journey from America to England of an unnamed sailor. During the novel, the reader observes several stories, each of which reflects the impact of the sea as a natural power. Through the lenses of these stories and personal views, the author speaks for the protagonist and comes to the conclusion that he is alone in life, like in the sea. Being the symbol of isolation, the sea also serves as the element connecting and dividing America and England in their attitudes to politics, economy, and social life. The nature expressed by Irving in the sea becomes a symbol of the restless search for freedom based on reflections about personal challenges and wider affairs related to the lives of other people as well as the fate of countries.

Works Cited

Beers, Henry A. A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century. Routledge, 2015.

Irving, Washington. The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Lee, Stephen J. Aspects of British Political History 1815-1914. Routledge, 2006.

Murray, Laura J. “The Aesthetic of Dispossession: Washington Irving and Ideologies of (De) Colonization in the Early Republic.” American Literary History, vol. 8, no. 2, 1996, pp. 205-231.

This research paper on Nature in Washington Irving’s “The Voyage” was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

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