What are the Romantic elements in "Rip Van Winkle?"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Washington Irving's descriptions, there are evident certain elements of Romanticism:

The awe for the beauty of nature

In his descriptions of the resplendent Catskills Mountains, Irving elevates them and the other elements of nature with personification:

[van Winkle] threw himself...on a green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that cowned the brow of a precipice.  From an opening...he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of rich woodland.  He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple coud, or the sail of a lagging bark here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.

The Dream, or the inner world of the individual

The use of the visionary, fantastic, or drug-induced imagery characteristic of Romanticism introduces Rip van Winkle's dream.  He is greeted by a

a short, square-built old fellow, with thick bushy hair and a grizzled beard.  His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion, a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist, several pair of breeches...He bore on his shoulder a stout keg that seemed full of liquor, and made signs for Rip to approach.

Van Winkle drinks from this keg and then in his inebriated state, he sees "a company of odd-looking personages playing at ninepins" whose faces are odd.  The group remindes Rip of the characters in old Flemish paintings.  Oddly, the little people are amusing themselves, but they maintained serious faces and a "mysterious" silence.  As he becomes drugged by the contents of the flagon, Rip van Winkle falls asleep for twenty years.  When he awakens, Rip's inner world does not match what he sees.  No traces of the amphitheater are there or the little men.  And as he approaches the village he is met by strangers.

A nostalgia for the past

After Rip van Winkle enter the village, he finds it much altered.  The old inn is replaced by the Union Hotel with its tall naked pole from which a strange flag flies.  The usual picture of King George was replaced by another visage, that of General Washington.

There was as usual a crowd of folk about the door, but none that Rip recollected.  The very character of people seemed changed.  There was a busy, bustling disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility.

Disturbed by all the changes, Rip van Winkle yearns for the old desultory colonial days where he and Van Bummel the schoolmaster sat around and echanged stories.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Another Romantic element in "Rip Van Winkle" is its use of the supernatural. The Catskill Mountains seem supernatural in their majesty. They are described in the following way: "Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains." The mountains clearly have an element of the mysterious and magical about them, and Rip descends from the mountains to a glen where he is taken back in time. This glen is also suffused with elements of the supernatural and is described in the following way:

"On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain glen, wild, lonely, and shagged, the bottom filled with fragments from the impending cliffs, and scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun."

The glen is lonely and dark, imbued with Romanticism and a sense of mystery. The setting of the story is also, as the other entries have noted, a place that inspires a sense of awe in the beauty and mystery of nature. In this magical place, Rip van Winkle is able to be transported back in time, and he also becomes out of joint with the passing of time. Therefore, elements of the supernatural are at work. 

Another element of Romanticism in this story is its use of folklore. The story is told by the fictional Diedrich Knickerbocker, who is a scholar of Dutch folklore. The story features elements of folklore in its tale of a simple farmer, and it calls on folklore from Europe in its themes and characters. 

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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One of the most important Romantic ideals included in this story is the idea of individual freedom. When the story first opens, Rip Van Winkle is henpecked by his wife and, although he seems amiable enough, nothing he ever does seems to suit her. After he falls asleep for 20 years, he wakes up in a time when his wife is dead, he can live with his daughter, and do pretty much as he pleases. In addition, his village is no longer subject to British control, but the Revolutionary War has made him a free citizen of the United States. Nature also plays an important role in the story. Rip Van Winkle is out in nature when he sees the party of men in a meadow and that's where he seems to have fallen asleep. Nature has kept his safe for 20 years. After waking up, he is still free to enjoy nature and the beauty if affords.


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