"Rip van Winkle" is a fantasy that relates to age-old folk tales, specifically a German tale about "Peter Klaus," which includes strange, supernatural beings, a perilous journey, and enchanted slumber. But there is irony in Van Winkle's adventure of a grand landscape and mysterious happenings as Irving plays with Romantic and heroic conventions. Rip's quest in the woods (merely to help carry a keg of liquor) is mundane, and his only accomplishment is to wake up and wonder how he will explain where he has been to his termagant wife, Dame Van Winkle, who symbolizes the harsh Puritan voice of practicality.
After he returns to the inn where he once enjoyed "the tranquility of the assemblage" as the men gossiped about the village, smoked, and told "endless sleepy stories about nothing," Rip finds instead a cacaphonous group that prefigures the bustling, disputatious tone of the new country:
...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 Babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.
No longer is the portrait of George the Third hanging before the inn, and when Rip declares to the argumentative group, "I am a poor, quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the King--God bless him!" a shout of "A Tory! A Tory! a spy! a Refugee!" arises from these new Americans, bewildering Van Winkle. Rip wonders what has happened to his home; he is a man at the end of his tether, confused about this new country in which he lives.
In descriptions of the final scenes, it is apparent that Rip feels terribly out of place. Here Irving satirizes the post-revolutionary scene. At the same time, Irving the Romanticist expresses a nostalgia for the earlier times of pre-Revolutionary War calm and the natural beauty of the colonial village when Rip
... took his place once more on the bench at the inn door and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village and a chronicle of the old times "before the war."
"Rip Van Winkle," often credited as the first American short story, imitates old folk tales, but it also brings into play the lyrical and Romantic, the comical and satiric, and the nostalgic.
"Rip Van Winkle," a story first published in 1819, was written by the American fiction writer Washington Irving. The story begins just before the time of the American Revolution. Rip, the protagonist of the story, is a pleasant if ineffectual man who lives in a village in New York State settled by the Dutch. One day after a quarrel with his wife he heads out to the hills with his gun and dog to go hunting.
According to local legend, Hendrick Hudson, the Dutch explorer who discovered the region for Europeans, returns every twenty years (as a quasi-ghost) with his men to the area. Rip helps Hudson carry a keg uphill, and falls asleep for twenty years. When he wakes up, his dog has died and his gun is rusty. He returns to the village to find that everything has changed, that the United States is now independent of Britain, and that the traditional Dutch culture of the village is being replaced by a more energetic, entrepreneurial one.
The character of Rip is treated comically but sympathetically, and he is given a happy new life in his old village. Through his eyes, readers are led to understand the sheer magnitude of the changes that occurred in the two decades the story spans.