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What is the point of "Rip van Winkle?" Can the story be read as being symbolic of the...

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keleb | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 31, 2010 at 1:59 AM via web

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What is the point of "Rip van Winkle?" Can the story be read as being symbolic of the struggle between America and England?

 

Is it only funny or is there something else going on? Are there any similarities between the conflict between these two and the conflict between the two nations?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 31, 2010 at 4:10 AM (Answer #1)

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There is, indeed, "something else going on" with Washington Irving's tale of "Rip Van Winkle."  Overall, Irving's story carries the typical Romantic element of fascination with nature and the past.  Often Irving describes the beautiful Katskill Mountains with "their magical hues and shapes" that the "voyager" may come upon.

There is also present in this tale the a romantic nostalgia of Irving's for the slower pace of the Colonial Period.  Certainly, Irving's Romantic ideals are expressed in his satire of his contemporary post-revolutionary society, which he suggests is too argumentative, rationalistic, and dogmatic:

In place of these a lean bilious-looking fellow, his pockets full of handbills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens --elections--members of Congress--liberty--Bunker's hill--heroes of Seventy-six--and other words which were a perfect Babylonian jargon to the bewildered van Winkle.

As a Romantic, Irving suggests a loss of the stability, calm, and natural beauty of the colonial village against the noisy, boisterous chaos of the new country.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 31, 2010 at 2:10 AM (Answer #2)

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To me, the story is mainly meant to be amusing.  It is mostly (I think) a reflection on stereotypical views of the domineering wife and henpecked husband.  However, I do think that it is possible to read something else into it.

I do not think that it is referring to the actual conflict between the colonies and England.  Instead, I think that you can argue that it is meant to reflect on the significance of America becoming independent.  Rip notices changes when he gets back to the village after his sleep.  He notices that the sign on the inn has the same face, but different clothes.  Does this mean that nothing has changed since independence -- is George Washington the same as King George, just with different clothes?  Rip also hears people talking politics, but he does not care.  Is this saying that people in independent America should be more interested in politics now that they have the right to choose their leaders?

I think that the story has something to say about politics, but it is not clear to me if the author is saying that the Revolution was irrelevant or if he is trying to encourage Americans to be more involved in their politics.

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