Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle, a figure based on a character from a German folktale. His name is still used to refer to anyone who is content to sleep his life away or who spends much of his time in sleepy idleness. As a character, he is not so much an as-if-real person as he is the embodiment of a common human desire—to sleep through all the trials and tribulations of adulthood and thus to move painlessly from childhood to the second childhood of old age. Diedrich Knickerbocker describes Rip as a simple, good-natured man who is a kind and considerate neighbor. Although he is a favorite among the neighborhood wives, who defend him, and the village children, with whom he is always willing to shoot marbles or fly kites, he is henpecked by his wife at home. Because of Rip’s aversion to work, his fences are always in ruins, his yard is filled with weeds, and he has the worst farm in the neighborhood. His one faithful companion, to whom he turns when his wife’s nagging becomes too much to bear, is his old dog, Wolf. After Rip’s twenty-year sleep in the Catskills, he returns to a changed world, having slept through the turbulent beginnings of the American republic. Now that he is an old man with a long white beard, he can enjoy his old age as a respected patriarch who can be idle with impunity. Thus, he lives out his life as a storyteller, entertaining the children of the village with the fantastic tale of how he went into the mountains and...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
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