In "Rip Van Winkle," what is the difference between Rip Van Winkle and his wife?
In this amusing and somewhat perplexing short story it is clear that Rip Van Winkle is not blessed with a happy marriage. He and his wife are described as being very different, and these differences being responsible for the way that his wife constantly nags him and gets at him for not pulling his weight on the farm. Consider how the text introduces Rip Van Winkle:
I have observed that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbour, and an obedient, henpecked husband.
We are told that he was popular among the women and children of the village and above all that he was always willing to help others but never to work on his own farm:
In a word, Rip was ready to attend to anybody's business but his own; but as to doing family duty and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.
Perhaps this gives us slightly more understanding of Dame Van Winkle's position. She has watched her own husband's farming land fall in to neglect and diminish bit by bit. Her own children "run ragged" whilst Rip Van Winkle spends so much time with other children. So, whilst the text variously describes her as a "shrew," a "termagant" and a "hen-pecker." Certainly, after his long sleep, Rip Van Winkle does rather grudgingly admit that she managed the affairs of their house very well, and so would have been incredibly frustrated at her husband's failure to manage their farming affairs.