What is the theme in Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington Irving's story of Rip Van Winkle begs the question, "What would it be like to sleep through your life and wake up an old man?" Not only that, but the themes of marriage and the change of governments during the American Revolutionary period also permeate the story. Another possible theme would be the ultimate way of avoiding one's duties and responsibilities. For example, Mrs. Van Winkle yells at her husband for being lazy and never following through on his duties. Rip isn't happy with his marriage, so it is ironic that he finds a way to subconsciously avoid dealing with it by falling asleep until she dies. He also avoids dealing with the issues surrounding the American Revolution, choosing a side--Loyalist or Patriot, and having to fight a war. The next question to be asked is if Rip feels like he missed out on life by avoiding it through sleep, or if it was exactly what he would have chosen had the choice been consciously given to him?

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Rip Van Winkle

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