“Rip Van Winkle” Characters Essay: Historical Events and Personalities as a Background for Rip Van Winkle
Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” written in 1819, is mostly concerned with the formation of the United States of America leading up to the Revolutionary War. Irving’s story follows Rip Van Winkle, a lazy and shiftless man who hikes to the Catskill mountains, where he helps an oddly-dressed man carry a keg to a gathering of similarly outfitted men. After serving the strangers from the keg, Van Winkle takes a drink and falls into a deep slumber, waking twenty years later to find his town unrecognizable.
Irving draws from the momentous events that occur during Van Winkle’s twenty-year slumber: the character falls asleep prior to the American Revolutionary War and awakens in a new nation. This is perhaps most relevant when Van Winkle visits the inn, which after the war has become the Union Hotel and now bears the image of George Washington. “He recognizes on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George […] but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was stuck in the hand instead of a scepter, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON” (Irving, 26).
Inside, Van Winkle’s confusion over the postwar status quo intensifies: he finds that many of his friends died in the war, while according to Ben Florman and Justin Kestler, “the rage Rip incites when he declares himself a subject of the king definitively confirms his status as a strange outsider.”
By exploring the newly established nation through an outside perspective, Irving illustrates the progress and upheaval of the late 18th century in the United States and the effects of the war on the populace. Van Winkle’s return to his indolent ways after waking up indicates that he is out of sync with the postwar ideals of productivity and industry, allowing Irving to contrast 19th-century American attitudes with pre-war sentiments.
Irving, W. (1963). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. New York: Macmillan.
Florman, B., and Justin Kestler. (2016). LitChart on Rip Van Winkle. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.litcharts.com/lit/rip-van-winkle.
Analysis of “Rip Van Winkle”: The Role of Myth in the Book
Diedrich Knickerbocker was an elderly gentleman from New York city. He was known for being particularly involved in the origin and culture of the Dutch settlers in that state, which is where the story of “Rip Van Winkle” began. He had lived in a small settlement that the very first Dutch settlers established long before the American Revolution started, while America was still composed of the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain.
The short story “Rip Van Winkle” written initially by Washington Irving is a short tale that symbolizes many of the significant traits and values of American mythology to this day. Set in the past, the story reflects that a lot of changes can occur as time goes by, that not only your environment around you can become different but your society can too. Throughout the story, it symbolizes many characteristics of the mythology of a nation through its location in time, over the course of events, and the moral lessons conveyed for the whole of the story.
The story’s setting is one particular instance of representing a mythological tale’s values. The story takes place around the 19th century in Europe, the time when Irving published the fiction. The setting plays a huge role throughout the story, as it is a tool to show readers how drastically things may change over time. In a lot of mythology, the story takes place in earlier periods of time to show more emphasis on the tale itself. By setting it in the past, Irving reserves the mythological value of “Rip Van Winkle” and elaborates on some events in history (Burstein). It also helps the reader experience this feeling or atmosphere by giving them a hint of what things were like at that time.
In addition to the setting, the events that occur within “Rip Van Winkle” show that the story holds tremendous value to mythology. For instance, Rip falls into a deep sleep for many years and wakes up to a whole new world in front of him. When Rip wakes up, he says, “I have not slept here all night,” which explains that he has been sleeping in that spot for a very long time. The exaggeration of these years in a deep sleep reveals its mythological influence throughout the tale. It is doubtful for a man to fall asleep for years and wake up. Furthermore, before Rip fell asleep, he was from, as stated, “…a little village, of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the early times of the province…” and he ended up going back to his village in which was now a “larger and more populous” city (Irving, et al.). These exaggerated factors add prominence to the meaning of the story as well, as the main plot could not have taken place without the change in time occurring.
Lastly, one of the major mythological values “Rip Van Winkle” expresses in its tale is the positive message and outcome it gives to the readers. The moral importance of the story relates to the effects of change, and even though some bad things may occur, there will or can always be a positive outcome. An instance in this story includes when Rip comes back to the village, which has become modernized into a more populous city. At first, his “heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of matters which he could not understand” (Irving, et al.). As time went on, Rip finds himself finally feeling comfortable with the new environment of his village and he “resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favor” (Irving, et al.). Not only does it represent the change of the environment, it also represents their adaptations. Despite some small issues, concluding the story with a positive outcome uncovers and emphasizes even more of the influence of mythology behind the tale. It benefits the reader’s positively by finishing on a good note.
Irving’s story shows the importance of mythology and how it is used to emphasize the events of the story as a whole (Burstein). The setting and major plot of the story have a considerable influence on the reader’s point of view, as well as the outcome of the story. “Rip Van Winkle” reveals that placing a story back in a historical time with individual events can leave a reader with a strong sense of the atmosphere of the story. The story also leaves us with the knowledge of how time affects life’s changes within a place and its people. The mythological values that contributed to this tale helped emphasize the story’s significance and morals embedded in it.
Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker. New York, Basic Books, 2008.
Irving, Washington et al. Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.