Rip Van Winkle Romanticism

Identify three key elements of Romanticism in Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle."

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Rip Van Winkle," by Washington Irving, is one of the first works written in the Romantic Movement in America. Three of the elements in the story which classify it as romantic are its supernatural elements, its adherence to the principle of individualism, and its reliance on Nature.

Of course the story contains supernatural elements. A strangely dressed little man motions Rip Van Winkle to follow him; since the man has something to drink, Rip follows the small Dutchman to an amphitheater, of sorts. Here he finds a group of other little strangely dressed Dutchmen who are playing ninepins (bowling). The sound of the pins is like thunder, and Rip serves the men (and himself) the drink--all without one word being spoken. Whatever he drinks causes Rip to sleep for twenty years. This series of fantastical events certainly qualifies as supernatural.

This story also celebrates the value of the individual. Rip does exactly what he wants to do in this story. Unfortunately, all he wants to do is nothing, which is why his wife nags at him constantly. Nevertheless, he ignores her and does what he wishes. Everyone in town loves Rip and despise his rule-following, constricting, and nagging wife.

Certain it is that he was a great favorite among all the goodwives of the village, who took his part in all family squabbles; and never failed, whenever they talked those matters over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle. The children of the village, too, would shout with joy whenever he approached. He assisted at their sports, made their playthings, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles, and told them long stories of ghosts, witches, and Indians. Whenever he went dodging about the village, he was surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on his skirts, clambering on his back, and playing a thousand tricks on him; and not a dog would bark at him throughout the neighborhood.

It is his attempt to be free of any constraints which prompts Rip to go to the forest on that day; his commitment to individualism is what prompts his adventure and changes his life. 

Finally, Rip's story cannot happen without the element of Nature. It is in the forest that all these events happen; the supernatural elements are always found connected to Nature in the Romantic Movement, and that is true here, as well. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here are two elements of Romanticism in "Rip van Winkle":

1. A key element is the Romantic lyricism of Irving's descriptions of the Kaatskill Mountains.

They are possessive of

...magical hues and shapes....When the weather is fair and settled they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outline on the clear evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory

Here is evinced the offering of nature's beauty with the opportunity to escape the conventions of the town and encounter what the Romantics termed the "sublime," a sensation that transcends the mundane, one that is spiritual as the individual is in communion with Nature. Rip van Winkle is representative of the Romantic as he retreats to nature and "scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill Mountains...and the still solitudes...on a green knoll." 

2. Another key element is that of the author's Romantic nostalgia.

Dame van Winkle, on the other hand, prefigures the bustling, "disputatious" tone of the new world to which Rip confusedly returns after twenty years. In the final scenes when Rip feels so out of place, Irving satirizes the post-revolutionary scene. For, the Romantic Irving expresses a nostalgia for the earlier times of calm and the natural beauty of the colonial village.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" was published in 1819, during the Romantic period (1789-1832). Texts of the Romantic period illuminated the importance of the individual, nature, the supernatural, and dreams. During this period, many authors and poets saw such a draw by nature that they moved from the cities into the countryside.

"Rip Van Winkle" contains many different Romantic characteristics. First, Rip decides to leave the chaotic city for the peace of nature. Rip finds himself simply walking off into the woods. In the woods, he finds himself "at the foot of [the] fairy mountains." At one point, Rip tells some children stories of ghosts and witches. This illustrates the characteristic of the supernatural.

Lastly, Rip awakes to find that everything he has experienced has been a dream. Rip even "revisits" the village where he told the children stories. No one knows him. This last element illuminates the Romantic nature of Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle."