Do the characters' names in "Rip Van Winkle" have any symbolic meaning?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is by no means a definitive answer, but it has been suggested that Rip in Rip Van Winkle is a reference to R.I.P, a common acronym for Rest In Peace, or Requiescat In Pace, in the original Latin. If this was indeed Irving's intention in naming his protagonist, it would be entirely appropriate, for Rip is pretty much a figure of a long dead, vanished past.

When old Rip wakes up from his extensive slumbers, it's almost as if he's come back from the dead. (And of course sleep is frequently used in literature as a metaphor for death.) Rip's alive of course, but there's still something not quite of this world about him. The villagers treat him like a walking exhibit from a museum, a living relic of the past. One could reasonably argue that Rip's so out of place in this new era, where absolutely nothing makes sense, that something in him died the day he went to sleep. So his name—if indeed it is a reference to R.I.P.—is a permanent reminder of the spiritual death he suffered when he dozed off beneath a tree on that fateful day.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial