Where lies the American Romanticism in "Rip Van Winkle"?  

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the aspects of this excellent tale that we can definitely link into American Romanticism is the way that American Romanticism sought to take myths and legends and update them to the challenges and issues facing the new America as a nation. We see this distinctly in this text and in the short fiction of Washington Irving as a whole, who read the German Romantics and found inspiration in folklore and legends. This borrowing from the European past in his work is given a new, up-to-date spin as he gives it a new voice and a focus on the issues facing America. This can be seen as the legend of Rip Van Winkle is used to comment critically on the Civil War, as nothing much seems to have changed except the exchange of portraits as King George is replaced by George Washington.

In addition, we can say that the depiction of nature is an important aspect of American Romanticism. Rip Van Winkle is a man who seeks out nature as a solace to the harshness of his wife and the poverty of his situation in town. He and his dog deliberately find peace and tranquility in nature as opposed to the chaos of town life. Note the following description of his reasons for leaving town:

Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair, and his only alternative, to escape from the labour of the farm and the clamour of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods.

Nature is seen as an antidote to the worries and pressures of modern living, which is seen in the treatment that Rip Van Winkle experiences from his wife and his money worries.

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