As you have learned, the stories that make up a nation's mythology share several characteristics:

  • They are set in the past, often in remote or exciting places and times.

  • They are filled with remarkable, strange, or exaggerated characters.

  • They feature incredible, heroic, impressive, magical, or mysterious events and their consequences.

  • They convey a positive message about a nation or its people.

    After reading Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," consider it as a story that helped create an American mythology.

     

    How does Irving incorporate at least three of the above characteristics into "Rip Van Winkle"? What is the impact of these characteristics on the story or on the reader’s experience of the story?

    Be sure to cite specific examples from the text in your response.

Rip Van Winkle is a strange do-nothing man in colonial New York. He has no desire to work and just spends his life doing whatever he wants. His wife, on the other hand, nags him constantly to get back to work and make some money for the family, but he pays her no mind and keeps on drinking with his buddies in the local tavern. One afternoon, Rip decides to take a walk up into the Catskill Mountains where he meets some ghosts from the past: a band of Dutchmen who have been buried in a landslide for many years. They give Rip a drink with magic powers that will cause him to fall asleep for 20 years.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Certainly, by the three criteria listed, "Rip Van Winkle" is certainly part of American national mythology. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. Its characters are almost all remarkable and exaggerated.

Rip is good-natured and agreeable, but had a "strong dislike of all kinds of profitable labor." He preferred...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Certainly, by the three criteria listed, "Rip Van Winkle" is certainly part of American national mythology. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. Its characters are almost all remarkable and exaggerated.

Rip is good-natured and agreeable, but had a "strong dislike of all kinds of profitable labor." He preferred to traipse around the countryside with his dog and lazily spend his days at the town tavern with others of similar ideals.

Mrs. Van Winkle, on the other hand, is a nagging wife, a literary archetype. She constantly castigates Rip for his laziness and his lack of industry.

There are other strange, supernatural characters, such as the ghosts of Henry Hudson's crew, who Rip encounters in the mountains. They are also part of the magical, or supernatural element to the story. They provide Rip with an unidentified liquor that causes him to sleep for two decades.

This fantastic sleep is at the heart of the story, for when Rip awakens, everything is different and more fast-paced. Read in this way, "Rip Van Winkle" reflects a commonly-held belief about the United States—that its creation as a nation represented a break from the past. This belief, foundational to American exceptionalism, is central in Irving's work. Part of a collection of old folk-tales written by "Geoffrey Crayon," a fictional author, it is both a connection to a mythical past and a statement about the United States as a new, modern nation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team