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?