What was changing in Rip Van Winkle's world?

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Rip Van Winkle provides a window to the American Revolution from the vantage of a Dutch burger in the Catskill mountains. What changed in Rip's world was the sovereign authority to whom the locals owed their allegiance. Van Winkle falls asleep for 20 years, and when he wakes up, the portrait in the inn is no longer that of King George III, but that of President George Washington.

The story of Rip Van Winkle explores power dynamics in interpersonal relationships. The author uses the character of Rip to compare two different periods of time. When Rip wakes up, he has neither an abusive wife nor an unjust king, but has a place of honor in the town square and a democratically elected president. Rip's relationships with his family, friends, and neighbors thus can be seen as an analogy to the changing forms of political authority in the new United States of America.

Keep in mind, of course, that not all change is change for the better. The American Revolution brings cultural upheaval to the town. Not all of that change is necessarily for the better. More likely, the author, Irving, thinks some insight can be gained into the human predicament by juxtaposing the two periods of time in which the story of Rip takes place. Most of human life is lived under the sway of authorities other than one's own self--be that a spouse, a king, or a president.

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