Is the story "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving an allegory? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, the American Revolution is pivotal to the meaning of "Rip van Winkle."  For, Irving's tale reveals his feelings towards the New Englanders that he considers Purtanical intruders who virtually invade the quiet and peaceful Dutch New York.  This disturbance of the bucolic beauty of the Kaatskill Mountains and the surrounding areas is allegorically depicted by the "odd-looking personages playing at ninepins."  The grave-faced men with "lackluster countenances" who play at their game with a mysterious silence have the most somber of visages. The balls of the ninepins symbolize cannon balls and the thunder is the explosion of the artillery of cannons.

 As it turns out Rip later learns that the little men he sees are the ghosts of Henry Hudson's crew, the men who have discovered the Hudson River.  Further, Rip's experience of ghosts of the more Romantic past are set in sharp contrast to his awakening twenty years later and his reutrn to the village where he has lived.  As he reaches the edge of the village, Rip is "sorely perplexed" by all the strange faces and the "bustling disputatious tone" to the character of the people who are assembled there. Gone is the appreciation for the beauty of nature and the desultory atmosphere of the old inn where George III's portrait resided, as the crowd argues about Tories, Congress, and President Washington.  In short, Rip van Winkle finds himself an outcast in his own village and an anachronism.

There is little doubt, then, that Washington Irving's "Rip van Winkle" acts as a humorous tale, but it also is an allegory, an extended metaphor for the invasion of harsh and radical changes to the peace and pastoral beauty of a Colonial village from which van Winkle, who represents the Romantic, the lover of nature and the contemplative life, has been taken. Confronted by the new republic, van Winkle is frightened and feels alienated. His nostalgia for the past is satisfied later, however, as once his wife dies and he is away from "the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle," Rip resumes his desultory, but more natural life.