Rip Van Winkle Literary Devices Lesson Plan

by eNotes

  • Released April 22, 2019
  • Language Arts and Literature subjects
  • 21 pages
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Theme Revealed Through Characterization and Symbolism:

This lesson focuses on Irving’s use of irony and continuity in complicating the theme of tyranny vs. freedom in the story. Students will compare and contrast elements in the beginning of the story to those at the end of the story. Students will analyze continuity issues in the characterizations of Rip and his children, the portrait of George III, and descriptions of the town. In studying changes and constancy throughout the text, students will be better able to determine how irony in “Rip Van Winkle” offers sharp commentary on the idea of tyranny and the theme of freedom from tyranny.

Learning Objectives: 
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to 

  • define tyranny in the story and recognize the political connotations of this word; 
  • compare and contrast the character of Rip Van Winkle at the beginning and end of the story; 
  • interpret symbolism in the picture of King George III, the description of the town, and characterization of Rip’s children; 
  • recognize the continuity between these elements in order to evaluate the irony of this progression; 
  • develop a theme based on interpretations of irony throughout the story.

Skills: close reading, character analysis, drawing evidence and inferences from the text, identifying themes, summarizing, paraphrasing

Common Core ELA Standards: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.3, RL.9-10.4

Introductory Lecture:

Included in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, a collection of essays and short stories by Washington Irving published in 1819, “Rip Van Winkle” is a literary folk tale set in New York’s Hudson River Valley before and after the American Revolution.

The story’s main character, Rip Van Winkle, is a beloved resident of a small village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. He is a popular figure in the village; easy going and kind, he helps his neighbors with their work, and children and animals love him. Rip, however, has an aversion to doing what he should: he does odd jobs about the town, yet leaves his house in disarray; he neglects his duties as a husband and father to escape his wife. Dame Van Winkle is portrayed as a domineering wife who makes his home so uncomfortable that he retreats to the village inn for relief from her bad temper and sharp tongue. Despite her despotic description, Rip seems to enjoy the freedom to go and do what he pleases around town and in the mountains.

Rip often escapes into the wooded Catskills, taking his dog and his gun with him. One day, after hunting and hiking for a time, he meets a stranger, follows him to a remote hollow in the mountains inhabited by strange figures, takes a drink of the stranger’s liquor, and falls into a 20-year sleep. Upon awakening, the bewildered Rip discovers that his village is almost unrecognizable, the colonies have become an independent nation, his wife has died, and his son and daughter have grown up. After his daughter confirms his identity, Rip tells the strange tale of his 20-year absence, and it becomes a local legend among the Dutch settlers. The loss of time and the new nation does not seem to faze Rip, who soon returns to the mundane life he led before the revolution and supernatural event. Rip sits in the pub telling his story to anyone who will listen, enjoying the ease of his days.

Full of imagery, humor, social, and political commentary, “Rip Van Winkle” is Washington Irving’s adaptation of a German folk tale. By incorporating the American Revolution and the legends of the Catskills into his short story, Irving creates a uniquely American folk tale that continues to engage and entertain readers. 


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