Is there a defined thesis for the story "Rip Van Winkle?"

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One theme that could be used as a thesis is the idea that turbulent events are better ignored or avoided, instead of addressed or confronted. Rip Van Winkle discovers that he has slept through the American Revolution and the death of his wife, who was the cause of his hike in the woods that day. Instead of being forced into responsibility by fighting in the war, or having to finally come to terms with his wife and settle their differences, the lazy Rip discovers that simply by waiting, he has managed to put them behind himself, and can now continue living in comfortable sloth as he has always wanted. The last lines of the story seem to confirm this as a virtue, not a vice: is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon.
(Irving, "Rip Van Winkle,"

Although it is certainly easier to avoid conflict, sometimes it is necessary, and Rip never learns this lesson. Instead, he has his laziness rewarded, although it is roundabout and steals years of his own life. Reading more deeply into the text, it would seem that Rip has lost the chance to grow as an individual; his "reward" is actually the completion of his personal growth, and he refuses to grow any further. In this vein, a thesis could read:

  • When conflict is avoided, the result can be positive.


  • Avoiding conflict often leads to the inability to ever fix problems.