Washington Irving

From the beginning I was stuck by the use of imagery and personification in “Rip Van Winkle”. The major source of personification the Kaatskill mountains such as the line “they are clothed in blue and purple” and “they will gather a hood of gray vapours about their summits” (456). By personifying the mountains, it seems as though Irving is trying to make the mountains less of a place for Rip Van Winkle to go and hide out and more like a companion that is calm and allows him and his dog to be at their most content. Did anyone else get that feeling from the mountains?

I was also very interested in the role of the American Dream and Rip Van Winkle. At some points he seems to fully buy into the idea of the American Dream by helping others without question and being “ready to attend to any body’s business” (457). Additionally, Rip is described as “a simple good natured man; he was moreover a kind neighbour” (456). These are some of the characteristics viewed to be important of Americans and Rip embraces them wholeheartedly. However, he goes against the American Dream in not working for himself. He refuses to work on his farm declaring it to be of no use (457) and does not even take care of his children. The colonists coming to America viewed it as a place to have a family and work on the land and take a sense of ownership and pride. By running off to the woods with his dog and letting his farm go to ruin, Rip Van Winkle seems to be shunning the very ideas the helped to found America.

Finally, I was intrigued by how Irving used the character Dame Van Winkle. Most of the literature we have read places women in the role of the obedient housewife who is lesser than the man of the house. While Dame Van Winkle is the housewife and the only reason the house can be kept up at all, she is the one controlling the homestead and her husband as is shown in the lines, “If left to himself, he would have whistled life away, in perfect contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family” (457-458). In a sense, it is her fault that he falls asleep for 20 years in the first place because he was hiding from her in the woods when he stumbled upon the group that gave him the flagon. When Van Winkle returns from his long sleep, he finds that the house has completely fallen in without her to take care of it, but his children are doing fairly well on their own except for Rip’s son who is following in his father’s footsteps. I think it is interesting to how the passing of time and the revolution through the presence and absence of Dame Van Winkle and Rip’s tie to her. Why does Irving use Dame Van Winkle to represent the passing of time and changes that have occurred with the Revolutionary War? Would the concepts have been successful if Irving had not used the character of Dame Van Winkle or had portrayed her from the beginning as a tame, obedient, servant wife?

Why does Irving have Rip Van Winkle sleep through the entirety of such a momentous event as opposed to some of the beginnings of the Revolution? What does Rip Van Winkle’s absence in the Revolution and lack of real political involvement or concern say for the average colonist or farmer of the time? Why is Rip Van Winkle so beloved by everyone, especially children, when he does not work for himself thus does not truly represent Americans of the time?

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6 Responses to Washington Irving

  1. vlevasseur11 says:

    It is possible that Irving puts Dame Van Winkle in a time period where she doesn’t belong. In the introduction we read that women began to use power from within the domestic sphere and were determined to fend off the dangers of unchecked patriarchal power. Although Rip Van Winkle seems far from overpowering, Irving may have used their relationship to emphasize the changing role of women over time. Thus, perhaps Dame Van Winkle’s role in the household is used to foreshadow how a larger majority of women would behave like in the futre (i.e., in 20 years).
    I think without the contrast of Rip and Dame Van Winkle’s personalities, the story wouldn’t have worked. Both of the characters are not ideal husband and wife, which allows Irving to effectively demonstrate anti-Franklin ideas, such as laziness and poverty: “the great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour…Rip was ready to attend ta any body’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, it was impossible (457).”
    I think that the quote about also serves to answer your last question. Rip Van Winkle was loved by so many because, unlike other who were determined to find indivual success and prosperity, he was not concerned with this and was willing to help others before himself. He seems to have within him true warmth and genuine care and compassion for others.

  2. Liz says:

    In terms of how Rip Van Winkle relates to the American Dream, I think this story is in many ways a critique of settlers. As you pointed out, being friendly and helping neighbors is critical in being a ‘good citizen,’ but the work ethic as it applies to money and family stability is just as important. Throughout the piece, Rip remains idle – his character stays almost exactly the same. In the beginning, the way that the culture responds to him is with disgust, since he, more or less, doesn’t contribute a whole lot. However, later in the work, when he returns to the village he is joyfully received and glorified simply because he worked as a symbol of the ‘old times’ before the war. I think the message here is that the Revolutionaries over-glorified the past, when really they should treasure the present work ethic, since it is far superior to the past work ethic.

  3. elliejo44 says:

    To me, Dame Van Winkle isn’t so much a character in Irving’s tale, but rather a symbol of opression over Rip Van Winkle in a similar way that Great Britain oppressed the colonies. When Rip wakes from slumber and learns of the Revolutionary War, he is unconcerned with his newfound status as a “free citizen of the United States” (466). The only form of oppression Van Winkle is concerned with is the “petticoat government” of his late wife. Now that she is gone he feels free and “could go in and out whenever he pleased, whithout dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle (466).
    With Van Winkle, I think Irving is commenting on the attitudes of the average American farmer at the time of the revolution. Van Winkle isn’t concerned with the broad implications of America’s independence, but rather the changes that he feels directly effect him, such as the death of his tyrannical wife. Earlier in the story we also observe Van Winkle with other men in the town reading the newspaper. Apparently the opinion of the news in the village “were completely controlled by Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn…” (458). Rather than the American ideal of forming individual ideas, we see that the majority of townspeople simply agree with the village patriarch believes. This fact, combined with the discussions of Van Winkle’s “anti-Franklin” behavior above, suggests that perhaps Irving is skeptical of the “American values” of self-reliance, independence, hard work, and national pride in their application to the average American.

  4. amandalynn9 says:

    I think that Rip Van Winkle’s long sleep through the start of the American Revolution is partially there to show us how war can deliver someone from fantasy to reality. Near the beginning of the tale, we witness “green knolls” and “fairy mountains;” the harshest descriptions in the first few pages are probably being of Van Winkle’s rapscallion nature (456). By the end, Irving illustrates the decay war and the absence of Van Winkle has wrought on the town – half-starved dogs and great “gaping, broken windows” (which denote all that has happened in the time he has lost), bring him to a temporal state (462).
    In the tavern scene, when Rip Van Winkle is pondering everything that has occured, Irving’s quick juxtaposition of the scenes that occured before Van Winkle fell asleep creates a nearly dreamlike aura, and shows the fantastical qualities of these earlier scenes: “He recalled the occurences before he fell asleep. The strange man with the keg of liquor – the mountain ravine – the wild retreat among the rocks – the wo-begone party at ninepins – the flagon-” (463).
    All this has eroded in the face of politics – represented here by the “tavern politicians” (463). This new scenery piques his curiosity and leads him to manic search to find out what happened to his surroundings. He does not stop until he can reclaim some of what is familiar to him, including the younger Rip Van Winkle and his daughter.
    However, even war cannot force perpetual bystanders into action. After all he is seen to have happened, Rip Van Winkle simply heads back to his daughter’s inn and goes back to rest (466). I think this last part can serve as a response to your final question. He is beloved because he does not offend anyone’s sensibilities. He says that he’s a loyal subject of King George, but after the debacle in the tavern, we never hear Rip mention his loyalty again.

  5. tyler20289 says:

    I felt after Rip’s return to town the towns people view him more as a reminder of the failures of pre-Revolution colonial life and ideals, than a glorification of the past.

    Before Rip’s departure, Irving develops him into a man who, although flawed, could fit Bradford’s Separatists ideal. Like sph12 first mentioned, Irving describes him as, “a simple good natured man; he was moreover a kind neighbour”. He talks with the local towns people at the inn, and is genial with the young children of the village. But Irving seems to be highlighting Rip’s gregarious and community-focuses attitude to poke holes in the Separatists-type ideals of colonial America and expectations of community memembers.

    Rip inherrits this role, by acting a good neighbor for the wrong reason. We are constantly reminded of Dame and her repulshion of Rip from the homesphere, and how Rip enjoys nothing more than running away to town or in to the woods with Wolf. Rip is not sacrificing for his community and placing it’s unity above his own success, but instead using the community to hide from his personal duty.

    When he finally snaps, or experiences a moment of divinity as you may see it (did anyone see the dwarves playing their game in their forcedly somber, silent, “lack luster” character as the life that Rip saw himself expected to live at home? And this a possible reason why he starts to drink the ale?), he returns to the village destitute and ultimately a figure of charity. He becomes lesser than the politicians and the townsfolk who follow him as an oddity–he is a reminds them of, look how far we’ve come since back then, supporting the arrogant superiority complex rampant in the young nation. Anyway, just a perspective.

  6. sfeingold12 says:

    I think there is something to be said in the comfort of Rip being able to return to the life he had pre-revolutionary war. The Americas at this time were going through many changes. They had a new government to run, and were expanding west very quickly. Soon were to come many advances in technology. I think the idea that life for Rip before the war and after has not changed very much could be thought of as comforting to those stuck in all the turmoil and changes.

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