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Rip Van Winkle Theme Essays

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 largely concerned with the formation of the United States of America leading up to, and in the years immediately following, 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 recognized 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 postwar ideals of productivity and industry, allowing Irving’way of contrasting 19th century American attitudes with pre-war sentiments.


Irving, W. (1963). Rip Van Winkle, and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: Macmillan.

Ben Florman and Justin Kestler, LitCharts Editors (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

There was an elderly gentleman from New York city, Diedrich Knickerbocker. He was known for being particularly involved in the origin and culture of the Dutch settlers in that state. The state, where the story of Rip Van Winkle began. He had lived in a miniature, and very old village that might have the very first Dutch settlers established long-long before the American Revolution began, while America was still composed of the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain.

The short story Rip Van Winkle originally written by Washington Irving is a short tale that symbolizes many of the significant traits and values of American mythology to this day. Set back 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 Rip Van Winkle, 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 huge instance of representing a mythological tale’s values. The story takes place back in time around the 19th century in Europe, the time as when Irving has published the tale. The setting plays a huge role throughout the story as it as a tool to show readers how drastically things may change over time. In a lot of mythology, the story takes place in earlier past periods of time to show more emphasis on the tale itself. By setting it back in time, Irving reserves the Mythological value of the Rip Van Winkle and elaborates on some events in history (Burstein, Andrew). It also helps reader’s experience this feeling or atmosphere by giving them a little hint of what things were like back in time.

In addition to the setting, the events that occur within Rip Van Wrinkle prove to show that the story holds tremendous values to Mythology. For instance, the main character Rip falls into a deep sleep for many years and wakes up to practically a whole new world in front of him. When Rip wakes up, he mentions “I have not slept here all night” which explains 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 in sleep and wake up. Furthermore, before Rip fell into sleep, 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, Washington et al.). These exaggerated factors add prominence to the meaning of the story as well, practically the main plot couldn’t have taken place without the change in time occurring.

Lastly, one of the major mythological values Rip Van Wrinkle expresses in its tale is the positive message and outcome it gives out to the readers. The moral importance of the story is as mentioned before are 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 modernized into a more populous city. At first, Rip felt as 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, Washington et al.). As time went on, however, 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, Washington et al.). Not only it represents the change of one’s environment, but their adaptations as Rip did. Despite little issues, concluding the story with a positive outcome uncovers and emphasizes even more of mythology’s influence behind the tale. It benefits the reader’s positively by finishing on a good note.

Irving’s story shows the importance of the mythology’s characteristics and how they are used to emphasize the events of a story as a whole (Burstein, Andrew). Not only does the setting and major plot of the story have a huge influence on the reader’s point of view, but also the outcome of the story. Rip Van Wrinkle reveals that placing a story back in a historical time with individual events can leave a reader with a feel for 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 were contributed by writing this tale helped emphasize the story’s significance and morals embedded into it.

Works Cited

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.

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As children, many readers have been told some version of the story of Rip Van Winkle before they ever get around to reading Washington Irving’s tale. Moreover, a number of theatrical adaptations have made the basic elements of the story familiar to many who have never read it. As a consequence, the story comes across as one without an author, a product of the folk imagination, and there is much in the genesis of the tale that reinforces this impression. In these circumstances, it is altogether too easy to overlook the art involved in Irving’s telling of his tale, especially given that it would be difficult to find anywhere in American literature a more compelling example of an art that conceals art.

“Rip Van Winkle” first appeared in Irving’s collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-1820). Much of the content of this book, the first by an American to enjoy a transatlantic reputation, focuses on subject matter derived from Irving’s stay in England, to which he had sailed in 1815. It expresses an attitude toward England, announced as that of Geoffrey Crayon, Irving’s persona, that is often critical and sometimes melancholy. In this context, the American qualities of “Rip Van Winkle,” set in the time of the revolution that established the independent United States of America where previously there had been only British colonies, make themselves emphatically felt.

Irving places the tale in a second context as well. The story was found, we are told, among the papers of Diedrich Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker is, of course, one of Irving’s earlier creations, the fictional author of Diedrich Knickerbocker’s A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasties (1809), Irving’s first masterpiece. How the papers of Diedrich Knickerbocker came into the possession of Geoffrey Crayon is never explained. Two personae, Geoffrey Crayon and Diedrich Knickerbocker, separate Irving, the actual author, from the work; the separation encourages in the reader an air of ironic detachment toward the story Irving tells. It may also constitute a sort of authorial self-effacement, a disappearance of the author behind his work. It is ironic that this success results in a diminished sense of the author’s accomplishment.

The actual source of the story is a German folktale; it is Irving’s genius that resets the story in America and in history. The twenty years that Rip sleeps are not merely an arbitrary period, suggesting simply a long time, as is common in folktales. Rather, they are the twenty years during which the American nation was born in revolution. Rip himself is also historically situated. At the beginning of the story, he is a loyal subject of England’s King George III. As his name suggests, however, he is descended from the Dutch settlers who preceded the English in the area that became New York. Before that, the Dutch the area was inhabited by American Indians. They are present in the story only as figures in the tales Rip tells to frighten and amuse the children of the village. History has pushed them to the margins, to dwell with the witches and ghosts who otherwise populate Rip’s yarns, yet they remain in memory and imagination.

Irving thus suggests a multiplicity of historical layers beyond the surface of his tale. Even the most fantastic element, the apparition of Hendrick Hudson and his crew playing at ninepins, recalls the importance of Dutch exploration in American history. The background to the dynamic of history is provided by the Catskills, emblematic on this occasion of the American landscape, the theater in which the acts of the historical drama are played out. The latest (and not the last) act of this drama is the age to which Rip awakens. His awakening leads swiftly to a crisis of identity: He no longer knows who he is.

In his confusion, as he begs someone to identify him to himself, Rip articulates a version of one of the central questions of classic American literature: What are these new beings called Americans? Do they represent a new beginning in human history? Or is the change from British colonist to American citizen as superficial as the coat of paint that transforms the George III inn into the George Washington inn? In fusing the materials of a German folktale with the stuff of American history, Irving encourages in his readers an ironic reflection on just such questions.

Part of the art of this story, then, rests in the mastery of touch that allows Irving to bring into play such complexities of time and place while maintaining without rupture a surface of unruffled urbanity and humor. A mastery of narrative craft is at work here as well. The story opens on a panorama of the geographical setting. The passages in the Catskills, including Rip’s encounter with the little men, are developed in more tightly focused, scenic terms. Viewpoint becomes strictly limited as the story moves to Rip’s discovery, through his observation of the reactions of others, of his long beard. This prepares the reader for the inspired confusion of election day in the village as perceived by a befuddled old man who thinks he is coming home. “Rip Van Winkle” is a marvel in its author’s manipulation of point of view.

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