What elements of "Rip Van Winkle"--including the narrator's commentaries--are satirical?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington Irving's "Rip van Winkle" is an imitation of the traditional German folk tales. However, in his writing, Irving does insert satire,

  • In his introductions, then, Irving credits Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old Dutchman who is curious about Dutch history and boasts of its "scrupulous accuracy." Still, Iring satirizes the old gentleman by declaring that his memory is yet

...held dear by...certain biscuit bakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their New Year cakes, and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to being stamped on a Waterloo medal or a Queen Anne's farthing.

  • A character that Irving creates in order to satirize the Puritan who lacks any flexibility and humor in her voice of duty and work ethic in a sort of comedy of manners is Dame Van Winkle. For, while the indolent Rip is the favorite of the children of the village,

...he is a simple, good-natured man...an obedient, henpecked husband [made] malleable in the fiery furnace of comestic tribulation...[with] the virtues of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may therefore in some respects be considered a tolerable blessing....

  • Another instance of satire occurs after Rip awakens and returns to his village where, after twenty years, he professes to be a "loyal subject of King George, and is castigated as "A Tory! a Tory! a spy! a Refugee!" by people as unreasonable as those with whom they warred.
  • Then, Irving depicts the only other change having resulted from the American Revolution as being a portrait in the tavern having switched from one George--the king of England--to another George--President Washington. Of course, the implication here is that the Colonists simply switched from one leader to another who is identical just as Rip sees himself standing against a tree and is told, "that's Rip Van Winkle":

Rip looked and beheld a precise counterpart of himself....The poor fellow was so completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man.