Rip Van Winkle and Other Stories
Symbolism of Rip Van Winkle Written by Washington Irving
The story of Rip Van Winkle is set years before and after the American Revolution. In Irvin’s story, Rip Van Winkle, a man who wandered into the mountains after listening to the ongoing nagging of his wife, experiences strange encounters. He comes upon men, said to be the spirits of Hudson’s crew, who are playing a game of nine pins, and after drinking, he lies under a tree and goes to sleep. He wakes up twenty years later. Because he was use to what the world was like before the Revolutionary War of the United States, he notices how things changed drastically. Irvin uses the characters Rip to represent America, Dame to represent Britain, and the townspeople to represent the American people, to show the reader how the various parties participated in the American Revolution.
Rip’s wife calls him lazy because he does nothing around their home. He would rather go hunting with his dog or go to the village and gossip with men. Everyone in the village loves Rip. The narrator states, “The children of the village, too, would shout with joy whenever he approached”. Rip made it his place to satisfy everyone but the people of his family. A few examples include rip playing with the children, teaching them to fly kites, telling the children stories, never refusing to help his neighbors, and he ran errands for people. The narrator’s states, “In a word Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, Rip found it impossible”. This is what causes Rip to be troubled by his wife. This can also be looked at as a representation of the American society as the US shows their efforts to take care of foreign affairs while not tending to their own. He is used to display American struggles and immaturity. Rip’s big error is his failure to be there and provide for his own family. One day Rip goes away to the mountains to escape from his nagging wife, only to take a sip of a drink and fall asleep for 20 years. When Rip wakes up and returns to town, he is puzzled by the many changes that have occurred such as his appearance and everything in the village. The character of Rip can also symbolize the American people who were struggling with finding their own identity.
Dame Van Winkle is the wife of Rip Van Winkle, who has a very sharp tongue. She is constantly nagging at her husband for his laziness and irresponsibility towards their home. The narrator shows this trait by saying, “She was continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family”. She is never satisfied with his deeds, and rightly so. The events in the story exhibit that she is the reason for her husband’s unhappiness. Dame represents the country of Great Britain. Her demandingness represents the power that the British tried to bring upon the American colonies, which eventually made them tired, as it did Rip. The tyranny he faces at home makes him escape to the mountains, which seems to be Rip’s happy place. Dame was the repressive hand that caused Rip to find his escape with the feeling of freedom, as did the colonists once they were able to escape the government’s rule of the crown.
The townspeople in the story represented the American society, showing how things were before and after the Revolution. It seems as though the townspeople were a bit conceited before the revolution, which is how they represent America while under British regulation. When Rip arrives back to town 20 years later, the townspeople grew to the expectation of their new government.
In Irvin’s Rip Van Winkle, Irvin displays changes in American beliefs from the experiences through the American Revolution. The short story provides insight to the characteristics of the American colonists and how the passage of time has modified the society.
A Hero’s Journey In Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle
Literature has been shaped by the culture of people; their hopes and dreams, their battles in life and in love, and their ability to overcome obstacles. It characterizes the ambition and deepest desires of a group of people, their aim of success and overthrowing their worst fears. As written by Karen Hunter in her biography, Joseph Campbell, he wrote a theory on the predictability of stories’ plots which include a ‘hero’, called A Hero’s Journey, “A … Monomyth, a term originally developed by author James Joyce”. He defined a monomyth as, “ … a universal heroic pattern replicated in all cultures and individual lives”. This monomyth would influence how people examined literary works, such as Rip Van Winkle, which can be compared to the Hero’s Journey framework and impact how people see heroes.
Rip Van Winkle begins with a predictable developing of the setting and characters. Rip is described as, “a simple good natured man; he was moreover a kind of neighbour, and an obedient, henpecked husband” overall giving the impression that he is someone that readers can easily relate to. He lives in an antique small town which has, “houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, with lattice windows, gable fronts… and built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland”, a setting which readers associate with normal lives. This supports the idea that Kathee Jones pointed out in her article ‘An Exploration of Personality Development through Mythic Narratives’, saying that the ‘hero’ begins their journey with their, “…biological endowments: talents, disabilities, interests, desires, and habits. The hero’s ordinary world is a place of social certainty, where expectations are known and followed”. The details of Irving’s story lead the reader to believe that Rip Van Winkle is a simple man living in a quiet and average town, where few turbulent events occur, which is the same as how Campbell laid out the Hero’s Journey. As the plot has followed the foundations of the Hero’s Journey, readers can predict a change in emphasis of the story.
After being introduced to Rip’s character and his surroundings, the setting and intensity of the story change as he leaves town. This happens because Rip’s wife yelled at all of his friends for encouraging him to sit around in a bar and smoke, which was so embarrassing and enraging that he sought, “to escape from the labor of the farm and the clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods”. This defines a scene where Rip is troubled after being in conflict with his wife, and gets away from her by going into the woods, introducing a new setting that is unfamiliar to the reader. According to Jones, this would perfectly entail the classic Hero’s Journey where, “ … a heralding event or character reveals other possibilities and the hero’s spiritual center shifts toward the unknown”. Due to the movement away from native areas, the atmosphere of the story slowly culminates toward the climax in Rip Van Winkle, as the monomyth would predict.
After helping a stranger with a keg climb a nearby mountain, Rip indulges in the keg’s contents, where he falls asleep surrounded by odd men who did not speak: a predicament not many find themselves in. He wakes to find himself without a dog, gun, or explanation for his hounding wife, a situation which causes him to be understandably unnerved. However, when he finds his way back to town, his wife is not his considerable issue. He observed that, “the very village seemed altered… there were rows of houses which he had never seen before and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared”, he was completely confused and scared. He went to the building that was his old friend’s bar, but was turned against as soon as he walked in, and said, “ … ‘they’ve changed my gun, and every thing’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!”’. These excerpts from the text show Rip in a very difficult position; he is unaware of what happened to his belongings, how to explain things to his wife, and when he finally gets to town, and nothing makes sense. At this point, he is on the verge of a mental breakdown in the middle of a busy bar, which leads readers to infer that this is the climax of the story, due to the increasingly trying situation that Rip has found himself in.
According to the Hero’s Journey guidelines that Jones has described, this would fit because, “In the special world, the hero struggles through a series of trials,” in the second element of the journey, ‘Initiation’. Rip has lost all that makes sense to him, and he is faced with the issue of finding where to go, now that his old town is warped. However, this also skips several steps in the layout Jones predicted when she said, “Often a hero must undergo a test of character to cross the return threshold to the ordinary world, showing commitment to finishing the journey”. Rip Van Winkle does not conform entirely to the Hero’s Journey, because he is technically back in the original location, but it is unrecognizable in every way. He has no place here, which is an absolute contrast to the setting described at the beginning of the story. As well, this is described in the ‘Return’ phase of the Hero’s Journey, which is supposed to be after ‘Initiation’ (the conflict section), but in Rip’s situation, this is the most difficult trial that he must face.
Sadly, after asking those in the bar about his friends and family, he finds that many of them are dead or gone due to the civil war. The result of all this new loss, “Rip’s heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world”. However, through finding out the melancholy fates of his friends, Rip is able to find his path to happiness when he finds his long-lost daughter who is willing to take him in. He then learns about the legend of the Kaatskill mountains, which provides clarification that his grave predicament happened because he clambered atop a mountain with the strange man. Peter Vanderdonk, a descendant of the historian who had written about the province at its earliest stages revealed, “it was a fact, handed down from his ancestor the historian, that the Kaatskill mountains had always been haunted by strange beings”. They had caused him to fall asleep for 20 years, which consequently led Rip to miss the war in which he unknowingly was separated from his loved ones.
While these details were sorrowful to learn about and have to accept, they also provided the clarification that Rip had been waiting to find. Jones says, “Heroes are challenged to knit together knowledge of the special world with the realities of ordinary life, becoming a master of two worlds”, and this concludes that often there is not always a completely happy ending in returning to the original world in the Hero’s Journey. However, in the case of Rip Van Winkle, it was heartwarming for readers to find out that he was eventually reunited with his daughter and was able to resume his usual routines. After all of this chaos for a man shown as simple and kind, he was able to overcome the pain and difficulty to, “[make] friends among the rising generation, with whom be soon grew into great favor” and had “got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle”. This lead to an ending which showed he had indeed mastered the ways of managing the past grievances and enjoying the present as is required in the monomyth as expressed by Campbell.
Through the lenses of the Hero’s Journey, Rip Van Winkle fits the frame in most attributes. The protagonist did not acquire guidance from a wise helper or anyone else during the phase of trials, nor was the exact order in the rise and fall of the climax precisely the same. The added complexity of how the final setting was arguably not the same as at the beginning topped off the additional parts of the story that did not correspond to the protocols of the Hero’s Journey. However, in weighing all of the attributes in the story, these details only slightly veered the direction of the story from the marks the monomyth had laid out.
The main points in the Hero’s Journey start with the hero in a normal place, and then after a setting change faces trials and finally is able to return to a peaceful yet enlightened life are all hit in Rip Van Winkle. One of the most important ways that Rip fills in the protagonist requirements of being a hero is how he is just a normal guy, yet is able to become something greater and have further appreciation for adventure. According to ChangingMinds.org, this “ … much-admired and much-copied pattern has also been criticized as leading to ‘safe’ movie-making, in which writers use his structure as a template, thus leading to ‘boring’ repeats, albeit in different clothes”. This refers to the predictable rise of a cultured hero by the end in the outline of a Hero’s Journey, however that is the reason why the Hero’s Journey affects literacy to such a great extent – the pursuit of something better will be found in all cultures, and therefore in the things that they write about. Human nature is to want to have adventure and become a better person through it, and by capturing this in their works, both Campbell and Irving have created something that ordinary people are able to relate to and use as a guide in their own life and pursuit of their goals.
Analysis of Rip Van Winkle as an Example of American Mythology
When talking about American mythology, there are quite a few characteristics that are shared by many mythological stories and fanciful literary works. Some of these characteristics say they are set in the past and are often times set in exciting places, are filled with remarkable and exaggerated characters, feature mystical, and mysterious happenings, and lastly they convey a positive message about a nation and its people. One of the first stories American Mythology often lead back to Washington Irving. He wrote the literary work, ‘Rip Van Winkle”. The story “Rip Van Winkle” is a great example of American Mythology because of the remarkable characters, the incredible and unbelievable events that occur, and the fact that it gives hope and presents positive messages about America through the long journey Rip takes in the story.
The first characteristic I’ve chosen of American mythology is the setting which is in the past and often times set in exciting places in the story. The story is set in the Kaatskill mountains (also known as the Catskill mountains). They are a segmented branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen westward of the river, and very tall considering the surrounding country. Rip Van Winkle is a farmer who goes off into the Kaatskill Mountains, where he soon finds a small group of dwarfs playing a game. When they offer him a drink of liquor, Rip accepts their offer and promptly falls asleep.
The second American mythology characteristic I chose is the featuring of mystical and mysterious happenings. Washington Irving includes many mysterious, magical characters, and events in his writing. It tells the story of a man named Rip Van Winkle, a man who casts off into the deep woodland of slumber for twenty years. He returns to find only that where he’d once lived and all who were his friends had long gone. He grows as a person in the story to find that his careless actions have had great consequences upon his life.
The greatest and final characteristic I’ve decided to write about is the remarkable characters, the incredible and unbelievable events. The very fact that it gives so much hope and presents such a positive message about America through the long journey Rip takes in the story, physically and symbolically, makes it a great example of American mythology. A character named Deidrich Knickerbocker is the narrator of the story. Rip Van Winkle himself is quite a character, however when it comes to the extraordinary happenings of the story, you couldn’t deny it if you tried. Rip falls asleep for twenty years for crying out loud!
So when you’re talking about American mythology, there are many characteristics that are shared by mythological and fanciful stories. Some of these characteristics say they are set in the past and are often times set in places quite exciting, they are filled with remarkably exaggerated characters, feature mystical, mysterious happenings, and lastly convey a positive message about a nation and its diverse population of people. Washington Irving wrote the literary work, ‘Rip Van Winkle” published in 1819. The story “Rip Van Winkle” is a great example of American Mythology and I hope to do an essay like this again soon.
The Awakening of the American Spirit in Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
It is no small fact that after the American Revolution everything had changed in American society. It is one of the single most important historical events that shaped our country into what it is today and produced a lot of important American literature that we have today. Rip Van Winkle, I would argue is one of those works of literature and isn’t just a fun short story to read to children, but an accurate depiction of how America was able to step up from British rule and become the amazing country that we have today. Washington Irving understood what the American people were experiencing at that time and wrote Rip Van Winkle with a way for American citizens to cope and form their own identity. Even though it was a great thing for America to be totally separated from England, it was also an adjustment and could be seen as like a divorce or a separation of a family. Irving lets his main character take on that role in his story so that it might be easier for the American people to understand. “The opening paragraph of RVW establishes the theme of the national “British” family breakup “while the country was yet a province of Great Britain”: the Kaatskill Mountains “are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family”. The imagery suggests a family that is split off and broken, and Irving employs the “branch” metaphor for families in other essays in The Sketch Book. In a story dealing with a change from British to American rule, Irving allusively evokes the commonplace family metaphor used before, during, and after the Revolution: England was the “mother” or “parent” country, and the American colonists were her children. But there is another pertinent cultural metaphor, for Rip is a henpecked husband, badgered by his demanding wife, and soon finds himself separated from his family”. When separation of families occur it can be quite traumatic for everyone involved, and I think Irving was trying to help the cause.
Irving does a great job of using metaphors in “Rip Van Winkle” to talk about America before it was influenced by England, during the time of English influence, and post American Revolution. Rip Van Winkle is about a man who lives in a tight-knit community along the Hudson Valley. Van Winkle is a man that is highly admired by his whole community because everyone feels like they can depend on him to help them when they are in need. It is ironic, however, that Van Winkle’s wife, Dame Van Winkle, can hardly stand her husband. “Morning, noon and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence”. His wife might be justified for always getting annoyed with her husband, because of his lack to help around their own house. Her constant nagging might be the reason that he decides to avoid her as much as possible, so she could be her own enemy because of the instigations she has against her husband. Irving uses Dame Van Winkle as a metaphor for England and its constant need to tell America what to do and how to do it. America, of course is represented as Rip Van Winkle, so we can see that a constant nagging wife (England) telling her husband (America) what to do is what really made Rip Van Winkle want to escape.
As the story goes on that is in fact what Rip Van Winkle wants to do. He decides the only way to escape his wife and farm and finally be happy is to leave and go squirrel hunting with his dog and gun. This metaphor can be seen that Rip Van Winkle’s taking up arms and leaving is symbolic to America deciding to take up arms and leave the controlling motherland as well. Some might argue that Winkle trying to run away is cowardly and he should confront his problems head on but Wang says this of the subject, “I would argue that Wolf, as a metaphorical substitute, explicates this artistic creation. Rip, in pursuing his own freedom, is criticized as foolish and useless by society; however, upon his retreat from the village into the woods, the “hen-pecked husband” has regained “the martial character of his ancestors,” and become a gallant hunter. So Winkle seems to transform from a husband who is constantly nagged, into a heroic hunter with a weapon. Winkle tries hunting for squirrels for the majority of the day, but he doesn’t find any. He notices that the sun is setting and should probably return to his house. Along the way back he hears his name from a dwarf-like person. Winkle decides to help this man carry a keg of liquor down the hill, and then drinks a little bit with this dwarf man. Winkle seems to have a bit of drinking problem because he drinks too much and falls asleep.
When Winkle finally wakes up he doesn’t realize that he’s been asleep for twenty years and that the world he knew was completely different now. He heads into town and finds that the image of King George III is replaced with one of George Washington. He finds that that people in his community are very different as well, and that is what Irving was trying to get across. The revolution sparked something within the American people and they became extremely enthusiastic about a new government separated from England. During the twenty years that Winkle was asleep, the American people found their own identity away from England and they were empowered by it.
Winkle is naturally confused by the all of a sudden change to his life and understand who he might be now. It is only when he finds his daughter who tells him everything that has happened including that his wife has passed away, that Winkle is able to find his own identity and one that brings him happiness, despite how sad that sounds. The metaphors that Irving uses in his book are very indicative to how society was during the time that England ruled over the colonies and after. It was very important at this time for Americans to find an identity away from that of being under British rule. Just like Rip Van Winkle’s experience when he finds himself extremely happy at hearing of the death of his wife, Dame Van Winkle. There would have been no other way for America to thrive and become the Country of innovation and prosperity that it is today.
Works like Rip Van Winkle are interesting because even though it is a simple tale and a humorous one at that, it teaches a very important time in history for the United States of America. The awakening of the American Spirit was almost recorded in this short story and will forever be remembered as one of early America’s finest piece of literature.
Feminist Critique Of Rip Van Winkle By Washington Irving
The fictional memoir of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle narrates the life of Diedrich Knickerbocker, a man residing in a small village in the Catskill mountains, who finds particular interest in recounting the histories and rich anecdotes from Dutch descendants of New York. Although Knickerbocker is an ancestor of many successful, hard-working men, he does not seem to share the same interest in being an active member of society. Despite the admiration Rip receives from the community, he is constantly admonished by his partner, Dame Van Winkle, for his inadequacy and ignorance to the time’s cultural emphasis on productivity. Dame Van Winkle’s incessant censure of Rip’s lacking ambition ultimately led to his escape into the mountains and twenty-year slumber through the American Revolution. After Rip awakens from his sleep, his aged daughter, Judith, serves as a beacon for assurance, welcoming, and success upon his arrival back to the village. Despite the berating from Dame Van Winkle, and the acceptance from his daughter, Judith, these characters are written off as insignificant and even vexatious. The scholarly article, “Irving’s Depiction of Gender in Rip Van Winkle: A Feminist Perspective” by Kiki Mu highlights the characteristics and actions of Dame Van Winkle and Judith in order to introduce an empowering account that defies the author’s misogynistic intentions. Through feminist critique of character development and textual support, a counter narrative arises which celebrates female characters and commends their ambition and initiative for success rather than Washington Irving’s deliberate condemnation and prejudice toward women.
Feminist theory, when applied as a literary critique, aims to undermine systemic patriarchal structure that has oppressed women for centuries. Emerging in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Feminist Theory provided a platform for women to dismiss heteronormative discourse, as well as rewrite history that has been warped by patriarchal ideals. Rip Van Winkle, while recognized for its promotion of national ethos, reinforces chauvinistic attitudes of the traditional American literary canon. On one hand, Irving depicts Rip Van Winkle as an “obedient, hen-pecked husband,” and unabating victim of harsh criticism from his wife. To many, Rip is admired for his “meekness of spirit” and pass off his laziness because of his innocence and good-nature. Irving successfully created a negative image of Dame Van Winkle, a wife so brutal she was claimed to have made the family dog whimper and surrender upon her entry. These accusations almost subconsciously sway the reader to be more tolerant and understanding of Rip despite his physical ability and reasonable societal expectations to provide for his family. Establishing deep-rooted stereotypical gender norms within the first few pages of the story, the author clings to the typical misogynistic narrative often repeated in many literary classics. Irving inexplicitly reveals his institutionalized ideals by the absence of naming Dame Van Winkle, as she is always referred to as Rip’s counterpart. This suggests the importance of noting his wife’s identity is worth keeping her anonymous. He gloats on his popularity among the women residing in the same village, disregarding the promises of marital commitment or respect for females in his community. Overall, the author builds character dialogue to skew favor of Rip Van Winkle’s indolent disposition and to mitigate Dame Van Winkle’s gender normative defiance by expressing her frustration with her husband. Despite this manipulated view of Dame Van Winkle, feminist critique redefines what Rip considers to be relentless nagging from his wife as an intense desire to be a productive member of society in order to develop and maintain the success and quality of life for the Van Winkle family. Dame Van Winkle simply acknowledges Rip’s opposition of America’s emphasis on active patriotism and work ethic, which he so tirelessly defends.
Following his passive character, Rip Van Winkle ultimately escapes into the lush landscape of the Catskill mountains to avoid societal and political pressures. Eventually falling into a deep sleep, the protagonist awakens nearly twenty years later. Upon his arrival back to the village, Rip is informed of the brutal truths associated with the American Revolutionary War effort that had occurred during his slumber. Along with this, Rip visits his home, describing it as decrepit, abandoned, and lonely. He learns of Dame Van Winkle’s unfortunate demise, as well as the lives and families nurtured by his fully-grown children. As disturbing as it seems, Rip Van Winkle was particularly relieved at the news of his late wife. Rip’s liberation from the constant reminders of his personal inefficiency allowed him to escape public criticism for his apathetic attitude toward Industrialism. Interestingly enough, the narrator claims that at the mention of his wife’s name, Rip Van Winkle would “… cast up his eyes; which might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate, or joy at his deliverance”. This observation proposes the idea that Rip may occasionally remember his wife for her desperate aspiration for her husband’s success. Without her around, his “fate” will never have the possibility of becoming something more without the active initiative from Dame Van Winkle.
When learning about the accomplishments and fatalities that many of his friends endured during the American Revolution, a familiar face made an appearance through the thrush of bystanders questioning Rip Van Winkle. His daughter, Judith, now a happy and successful mother and wife to a farm owner, embraces her father’s return with the absence of judgement. Even twenty years after their last interaction, Judith refrains from exposing her father’s ingrained idolence. Judith’s social role in her community shows her following in her late mother’s footsteps. In addition, upon reuniting with his son, Rip witnesses him “…leaning against a tree, employed to work on the farm but evinced a hereditary disposition to attend anything else but business”. It is seen here that once again, another generation of Van Winkles seem to conform to the vicious cycle once exercised by Rip Sr. and Dame Van Winkle. Judith seems to have made a life for herself through hard work and dedication while Rip Jr. has adopted many of the same habits exhibited by his father.
Rip Van Winkle by renowned Romanticist author, Washington Irving, is undeniably one of the most influential and entertaining pieces of American literature during a time that emphasized new aspects of social order. Despite its attempt to promote patriotic values of freedom, passive resistance, and the role of productivity during the era of Industrialization, it easily falls into the ideas perpetuated by patriarchal structure in literature traditionally written from the perspective of white European men. Rip Van Winkle meanders through his life, content with remaining a passive member of society, and renders his wife’s routinely criticism as irritating and useless nagging. However, both Dame Van Winkle and his daughter, Judith, symbolize the pivotal parts in the well-oiled machine that is society. Dame Van Winkle’s death concluded Rip Sr.’s destiny to remain a withdrawn, loafing citizen. Judith’s tolerance for her father’s unwavering ideals also suggests acceptance of the inevitable with her father. As for Rip Jrhe mimics his father’s life path very closely, and demonstrates the same lack of ambition despite the opportunities at his fingertips. A feminist critique of character development and textual aspects in Rip Van Winkle reveal an altered view of women in the story, despite the rigid properties of anti-female rhetoric strewn throughout. Inconclusive to his efforts, the women Rip Van Winkle are made out to be dynamic, pro-American heroes.
Freedom and revolution in Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”
Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle” has endured as an American classic that places timeless themes against a backdrop of the American Revolution. Rip Van Winkle, the placid, charitable, idle Dutch-American protagonist enjoys his slow life in a town at the base of the Catskill Mountains. His sole source of agitation is Dam Van Winkle, his wife, who reprimands him constantly for his reluctance to do domestic or farm work. One day while on a walk in the mountains with his dog, Wolf, Rip encounters a group of men dressed in antiquated Dutch clothing, playing nine-pins. Rip is unconcerned with who they are, and drinks their gin, and falls asleep. Upon waking and returning to his village, he realizes that his wife is gone, he recognizes no one, and that the life he knew has vanished. Eventually he is told that one night on the mountain was twenty years, and that the American Revolution has taken place. Although Rip has lost many years, he is now able to enjoy the quiet without his nagging wife. In “Rip Van Winkle”, Irving uses Rip’s story to depict the dramatic changes of the new America following the revolution.
Dame Van Winkle’s nagging is the core inhibitor of Rip’s freedom, and thus is the symbol of the past and the undesired, as well as the factor by which productive change is judged. Although Rip responded to her complaints with his “well-oiled disposition” by “[shrugging] his shoulders, [shaking] his head, [casting] up his eyes, but [saying] nothing” (473), “times grew worse […] as years of matrimony rolled on” (474). The increasing trouble Dame Van Winkle gives Rip resembles a revolution within Rip itself: the worsening times lead up to a significant transition in which the negative qualities of the past are rid of. The life Rip leads under his wife’s scrutiny and criticism is to an extent repressed and causes him to constantly seek the freedom of the wilderness, solitude, and exploration, similar to the motives behind the discovery of America. On his walk in the mountains, Rip Van Winkle runs literally into the past with the appearance of Henry Hudson and his men. The men are dressed in “antique Dutch fashion” (475), and they reminded Rip of “the figures in an old Flemish painting” (476). The group of men are playing nine-pins, a British game. This scene is saturated in representation of the past; it’s a glimpse of America’s British roots during a significant era of change.
Rip Van Winkle’s return to his village the next day, or two decades later, is Washington Irving’s meditation on the change that the Revolution instilled. Initially, Rip is “sorely perplexed” (478), and upon discovering that he is surrounded by strangers and his family is gone, is like his house, “empty, forlorn, and apparently abandoned” (478). In his desolation he even calls out for his wife, his only reason for unhappiness in his past life. The portrait of King George, who is described fondly as having a “ruby” face and a “peaceful pipe” (478), is replaced with a painting of George Washington, who is foreign to Rip. New terms that Rip has no understanding of confuse him: “war, congress, Stoney-Point” (479). Irving uses the universal symbols of the American Revolution to depict the massive changes that have occurred during the time that Rip has been gone. As seen in Rip’s emotional state, change without continuity is not progress. The shock that Rip experiences in the face of a changed homeland is proportionate to the amount of change that has occurred in those twenty pivotal years. However, Rip Van Winkle slowly finds familiar faces again, or continuity from the life he knew. He sees “himself or another man” (480) – almost an exact reflection of himself in his son, whose name is also Rip Van Winkle, and his daughter takes him in. His life reverts back to the way it used to be, excluding the absence of Dame Van Winkle. Her death is the meaningful development in his life: “he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased” (481). Rip has attained full freedom and is no longer chained to the repressive elements of the past. He is living the change, but is able to see elements from his earlier life.
Rip Van Winkle’s new life in the revolutionized United States is the embodiment of change for progress yet maintaining continuity. Rip’s new life is an improvement of the past, not a replacement, for although Dame Van Winkle and all the restriction that she embodies is gone, Rip finds that he “[prefers] making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon [grows] into great favour” (481). Rip’s preference for the younger generation, and the absence of the ways of the past, reflect the positive changes Irving sees in the revolution. Even longer after Rip’s return, during every thunder storm, the townspeople imagine that “Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of nine pins” (482). This acknowledgment and legacy of one of the first and most important explorers of America highlights how early 19th century Americans acknowledged and remembered their British past.
“Rip Van Winkle” has been integrated into the collective historical memory of Americans because of Washington Irving’s riveting portrayal of a people’s transition into a new era. Rip’s sudden awakening to a changed nation reflects the confusion and disorganization likely felt by commoners during the revolutionary era. The pleasant ending to his story emphasizes that the change is for the better as long as continuity remains, and history is remembered.