Discuss the cultural function, effects, or implication of the story of Rip's meeting with the ghostly Hudson and his crew and effects of the fact that he becomes a town historian. Consider an...
Discuss the cultural function, effects, or implication of the story of Rip's meeting with the ghostly Hudson and his crew and effects of the fact that he becomes a town historian. Consider an approach that sees this story as Irving's attempt to create an American legend.
"Rip Van Winkle" was written at a time when Americans were trying to establish their own distinct culture and literature. Irving's story helped to establish the tradition of a distinct American literature that fit within the genre of Romanticism but that had uniquely American elements.
One of these unique American elements is the inclusion of American folklore. The tradition of folklore was an important part of European Romanticism, but Irving sought in this story to establish a uniquely American folklore. For example, in describing Rip Van Winkle's family, he writes, "he was a descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort Christina." Irving connects Rip Van Winkle to Dutch American history, which, while not ancient by European standards, pre-dated the arrival of the British. Fort Christina had been established by the Swedes and was captured by the Dutch in the 1650s, giving the story a connection to the pre-English history of the American colonies.
Later, Rip Van Winkle meets in the Romantic mist of the Catskill Mountains with Hudson and his crew. The man he first meets is dressed in "the antique Dutch fashion." He sees a crowd of old-fashioned figures playing nine-pins in an amphitheater, and they make him think of "the figures in an old Flemish painting." After returning to his village after the passage of many years, Rip Van Winkle tells his tale to whoever will listen, and only those with Dutch heritage tend to believe him. By becoming the town historian, he is establishing the importance of a distinctly American history and a defining a sense of regional identity that comes from Henry Hudson and the Dutch heritage of the area. Rip's meeting with Hudson and his crew establishes the idea of an American identity and folklore that provide a unique style and voice in American literature.