Could you help me analyze the setting, character and point of view in Rip Van Winkle?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator



More than introduction, the italicized opening of Washington Irving's "Rip van Winkle" provides a frame for the tale, explaining how it was found and defending its credibility.  However, this frame actually creates doubt since the narrator who is Geoffrey Crayon, the author of The Sketch Book claims to have found the papers of the "late Diedrich Knickerbocker."  Thus--so says enotes--Crayon who is of "questionable judgment" has the story from Kinickerbocker, who is also unreliable.  In addition, the tone of the mock-heroic with the opening quotation that invokes the god Woden suggests unreliabilty in its humor.  Thus, the point of view of this story clearly establishes it as fiction.


The setting of Irving's story is strongly connected to the theme of the American Revolution.  Various critics have assigned the beginning of the story to somewhere between 1769-1774 and the return of Rip to around 1789-1794.  The beautiful Katskills mountains establish the Romanticized atmosphere of Rip's experience.  For, while he is lost in the Katskills, Rip is, like the Romantic, calmer and more contemplative of nature's "green knoll."  This mood contrasts greatly to the setting to which van Winkle returns as one man is "haranguing vehemently" and there is a "Babylonish jargon" and

a busy, bustling disputatious tone [about the crowd] instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility.

This alteration in setting suggests Irving's proclivity to nostalgia for the beauty, calm, and stability of the colonial village.  Nevertheless, the fact that the face of George Washington on the sign resembles "the ruby face of King George" and only the coats differ indicates that Irving's narrator yet feels that much is unchanged other than the temper of the "usual crowd of folk."


While the reader tends to sympathize with Rip van Winkle who is harrassed by a termagant wife, the reader must also wonder what Rip has done to deserve praise.  For, while he is willing to help his neighbors and entertain the children of the village, Rip neglects his "ragged children" and wife.  Rather than being with his family at the end of the day.  Rather than spend time with his family, Rip is often "dodging about the village" since he possesses "an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor."

Van Winkle's wife, abandoned for twenty years, bursts "a blood vessel in a fit of passion at a New England peddler." Despite her tempestuous nature, the perception of the wife on the part of the readers is somewhat questionable since they must wonder whether the termagant wife that the narrator says, or is she justified in her scolding and anger since her husband is neglectful and a "ne'er do well"?

The stranger who approaches van Winkle in the mountains resembles the legendary explorer Hendrick Hudson, and, according the Peter Vanderdonk, the most ancient resident of the village, comes with his crew to haunt the area every twenty years.