Washington Irving-Rip Van Winkle





Washington Irving-Rip Van Winkle

Washington Irving tells the story of Rip Van Winkle, an easygoing man who is deceived into taking drinks that make him sleep for twenty years. Winkle lives with his nagging wife, two children, and Wolf, his dog and faithful companion. He does not delight in taking care of his home or working in his own farm. However, he does not hesitate to help the villagers in need, tell the children stories, or make playthings for them. He will enjoy mending a neighbor’s fence or participating in other chores outside his home. He spends his days in the mountains hunting squirrels and he uses them as a source of refuge. Irving describes the transformation that takes place in the village after Winkle’s deep sleep. Irving’s story has a deeper meaning and it is not just about Winkle’s experiences. Through the story, Irving is able to reflect on the political climate of the country at the time. The author uses his imagination and he neglects reason and rationality, which is characteristic of the romanticism. The setting and use of allegory helps the author to bring out the theme of change, and the author is able to do this by using his imagination and rely on the supernatural.

The story takes place in a village near the Hudson River, where the Catskill Mountains are visible. The events happen some years and after the revolution. The mountains are a source of refuge for Winkle, who uses them to escape his nagging wife (534). The author’s description of the mountains contributes to imagery as it enhances the beauty of the place. The mountain is not only a source of refuge for Winkle but it also the end of his life as he knows it. Winkle encounters the men with the ninepins there and he gets drunk, which leads to his deep slumber. The village inn is significant as a socializing place for the elders and the idlers (533). Its depiction as an inn and later as a hotel illustrates the changes that have taken place in the region. The village is significant as it holds the people together and it is the first indication of the transformations that have happened. Winkle is able to notice that something is wrong when he notices the different houses and the increased population in the village. In addition, the village offers Winkle the comfort he needs. He enjoys spending time with the children and helping his neighbors. He receives compliments and praise from the villagers, which he lacks at home.

Change is a recurring theme in the story as it contrasts the events before and after Winkle’s long sleep. The main transformation is the political situation in the country, which has changed people’s lives in different ways. They now have a choice in the people they choose as their leaders. Winkle realizes that the people and the village have changed to the extent that he is a foreigner in his own village (538). Before he slept, Winkle and some of the men in the village would spend their time idling at the inn gossiping and talking about nothing. They would discuss events that had happened several months before. Winkle is confident that every one in the village and the surrounding country know him. The dogs do not bark at him. When he wakes up, he finds that people have changed their manner of dressing and no one seems to recognize him. The dogs no longer recognize him and they bark at him when he approaches the village. The inn where the men used to pass their time had been replaced by a hotel. Unlike before when people used to spend their time talking, Winkle notices that every person seems busy. The political climate has changed and people now identify themselves as federals or democrats. They no longer announce their loyalty to the king.  

The story is an allegory as depicted in its ability to have a literal and hidden meaning. Other, than describing the experiences of a subservient man who wakes up twenty years later, the author uses the story to contrast the changes that happened before and during the American Revolution. Judging by the way that Winkle takes the time to help his neighbors, spend time with the children, and go hunting, it is clear that he is not a lazy man (532). However, his wife does not seem to share this opinion, as she demands that her husband work for profit. She thinks that he is lazy for his failure to participate in the home or take care of the farm. The characters represent the relationship between America and England. Winkle’s wife represents England and its persistent desire for money, which it showed through the proposal and implementation of different taxes. Winkle wakes up to find changes within the village. For some time, he seems lost and he is not sure of his identity. However, he soon settles in and he begins mingling freely when he realizes that his wife is absent and he no longer has to deal with her. America was liberated from England and it was able to gain freedom. The people found a new identity, as they were no longer defined by the relationship they had with their colonial masters.

The story is characteristic of the romantic period. Irvin demonstrates this by his concentration on the imagination and feelings. Writers during this time were concerned with the supernatural and mystical things. Hence, Irving did not mind the idea that he could come up with the idea of a man sleeping for a long time. He expects his readers to believe in the idea that one can sleep and wake up after twenty years. The romantic period was also characterized by the decision to focus more on matters concerning the countryside instead of dwelling on the urban regions. Irving sets his story in the countryside and this is evident because Van Winkle would spend his days shooting squirrels and going to the mountains. These activities are associated with the country. He expresses his value for the common natural man through the protagonist. Romantics were attracted to rebellion concerning diverse issues. In Irving’s case, he used Winkle to express his desire for freedom. Although Winkle is described as a henpecked man, he does not do anything that his wife’s tells him. He uses his silence to rebel against her. Moreover, he does for others what he cannot for his own household. For instance, he can mend a neighbor’s fence and leave his own unattended. He can work on other people’s property but his own is falling down. This is a form of rebellion against a nagging and demanding wife, who seems intent on controlling every aspect of her husband’s life. 

Romanticism was characterized by a belief in the supernatural and dependence on the imagination, which made it possible for authors to highlight common themes in an extraordinary way. Irving took advantage of this in the story. The readers do not focus on the possibility of a person sleeping for twenty years, but they are more interested in his reactions after waking up and in the transformation that took place at the time. Irving told the story as an allegory, which enabled him to relate the domestic life of Winkle and his wife to the political situation concerning America and England. The author used different settings, which were connected by Winkle’s presence and identity. He was able to think and reflect about life and about his situation when he spent time on the mountains. He found comfort and solace in the village, where he got the compliments he lacked at home.

Work Cited:

Irving Washington. “Rip Van Winkle.” The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Belasco, Susan and Linck, Johnson. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 530-542. Print

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