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There are a number of different important messages in Rip Van Winkle, but many critics have focused on, and debated over, Washington's point about the political, social, and cultural change that had taken place in America in the years before and after the American Revolution. Rip goes to sleep before the Revolution and wakes up afterward to find that many things have changed. People move faster and are much noisier than they were before. The town has a "busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity" that used to characterize it. People are especially animated about politics, haranguing each other and arguing in ways that they never did before the Revolution.
On the other hand, there are some things that are no different than before, or at least have changed only in appearance. The inn where Rip would sit with his friends still has a picture of King George on its sign, but it has been altered to resemble George Washington. And Rip himself, once he has become acclimated a bit, manages to fit in this new society quite well. IIn fact, the event that has far more relevance to his life is his wife's death, which has also transpired while he slept. It is not clear what Irving means to suggest about the Revolution in particular, or change in general. He seems ambivalent about it at best. But it is clear that a very significant event has occurred even as Rip dozed peacefully away in the countryside, though he gained independence more from his wife's death than by the exertions of the American Revolutionaries.
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