Describe changes to the characterization of Rip Van Winkle in Irving's "Rip Van Winkle."

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Rip starts out being described as a mild and well-liked man in his village. But the narrator takes pains to explain that the reason he is mild and agreeable to neighbors is that he has been taught to be humbled and docile by the tyranny of an domineering wife at home. We know that she delivers "curtain lectures" (which is an idiom for giving him scoldings at night, after retiring to bed, behind the bed curtains drawn about the bed for protection from drafts and for added warmth) but we don't know for sure if he deserves the lectures by being slovenly and unproductive or if she simply has a fiery, unloving temperament. So while we know the appearance of his character traits, we don't really know the cdepth of his character traits.

[Rip's temper was] rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering.

After he comes down from the mountain to a village (and a world) radically changed, Rip can indulge what we now know--following his description of his son: "a precise counterpart of himself, as he went up to the mountain: apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged"--are his natural inclinations (meaning he may have deserved the "curtain lectures") and do nothing but talk the time away.

The change indicated here is one that reflects a symbolic liberation from the imposition of constraints that are ill suited to natural inclinations (symbolic of the tyranny of the kingship of George). So Rip changes, once he is accepted by his village, from a nice, compliant, docile man who is afraid of the tyranny of his wife (who seems to be naturally unpleasant according to the report of her death: "she broke a blood-vessel in a fit of passion") to a nice, compliant, docile old man who can happily practice his natural inclinations without fear, dread, guilt and oppressive tyranny (all in all, Rip doesn't change that much except physically and that is merely the natural result of time).

Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village.

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