Washington Irving's short story "Rip Van Winkle " tells the story of the titular character, who while beloved by his neighbors, children, and animals, is made miserable by his wife. When hunting squirrels in the Catskills one autumn day, Van Winkle encounters a strange little man dressed in...
Washington Irving's short story "Rip Van Winkle" tells the story of the titular character, who while beloved by his neighbors, children, and animals, is made miserable by his wife. When hunting squirrels in the Catskills one autumn day, Van Winkle encounters a strange little man dressed in antique Dutch clothes; Van Winkle assists him in carrying a keg up the mountain, where he sees a band of similarly attired little men. He then takes a few sips from their keg and falls asleep; when he awakens, he discovers that he has slept for many years, that his wife is dead, that his children are grown, and that the world has changed around him.
Thematically, the story deals with conflict in marriage, the changes brought about by the American Revolution (through which Rip slept!), and the passage of time.
Rip Van Winkle is a short story about a lazy man who escapes his nagging wife by hiking to the Kaatskill mountains in 1766. Once there he falls asleep, and when he wakes twenty years later things appear different, and Rip is confused. The theme of the short story is change and the true meaning of the story is its underlying commentary of a pre-revolutionary and post revolutionary America. The relationship between Rip and his nagging wife can be paralleled to the relationship between England and the colonies. When Rip speaks to a grown woman in town she realizes she is speaking to her father. She welcomes him into her home and in a sense integrates him into the new America. The story is an allegory of the entire revolutionary experience.
Another theme that runs through Rip Van Winkle is lazines. Rip's laziness is eventually punished. His punishment was to remain asleep for 20 years. As a result of his 20 year nap, he misses watching his children grow up, his wife dies, and the village changes. He also sleeps through the entire American Revolution.
However, the story also suggests that laziness has been rewarded. His wife, who was very critical of his lack of initiative, when he wakes up, is dead, and, therefore, he is freed from her nagging and her constant criticism. He no longer has to run and hide in the woods to find peace in his life.
His life, after he wakes up, is better than it was before he fell asleep.
Visit the eNotes study guide link below. There you will find a discussion of two themes of the story: the American Revolution and marital conflict.
Another theme is change. When Rip van Winkle awakens from his nap, the entire world has changed. Everything he was used to before is gone--even clothing styles have changed. Although so much is different, there are still some links to the past; his children, now adults, serve to link his old life to the new reality.