How does gender influence the analogy between domestic conflict and politics in "Rip Van Winkle"?

Quick answer:

The analogy between Rip the henpecked husband and the henpecked American colonies under British rule genders the relationship between America and Britain. Britain is cast as the shrewish woman, demanding illegitimate power over the colonies. The new United States is cast in a masculine role as it fights back and achieves rightful independence from an emasculating womanish European state.

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Irving constructs an analogy between the relationship of Rip Van Winkle to his wife and the relationship of the American colonies to Great Britain.

Like the American colonies under British rule, the happy-go-lucky Rip is construed as henpecked and bullied by a shrewish wife who constantly makes demands of him. The story suggests that this saps Rip of his will and manhood, so that he goes off by himself to hunt or fish or hangs out under the portrait of George III in front of the inn, discussing old news with other apathetic men.

After Rip wakes up from his twenty years of sleep and comes back home, he finds that his wife is dead and that New York is part of an independent country, the United States, and no longer a British colony. British rule is as dead as Rip's wife: neither can act the part of bully any longer. Both Rip and the colonies have been liberated. Thus, American independence is analogous to Rip's new independence from his wife.

The new national independence has unleashed unprecedented energy and political engagement in the village. However, Rip remains apathetic and becomes a relic of a former, less robust time because he never rebelled against either his wife or Great Britain.

The gender implications are as follows: if Great Britain is analogous to Dame Van Winkle, it is cast in the negative stereotype of a shrewish, emasculating woman. The new United States has achieved manhood by standing up to this bullying wife and putting her in her place, declaring independence and taking power. Rip cannot join this masculine country because he forever has the colonial mentality, having allowed himself, as mentioned above, to be henpecked by a woman.

Implicit in this is the idea that just as female power over men is illegitimate in patriarchal societies, so British power over the colonies is illegitimate.

In setting up this analogy, Irving contributes to the development of an American mythology that asserts the superiority of a robust, red-blooded, male-gendered new country against a feminized, effete Europe that can do little more than ineffectually play the female shrew to the fully free and energized United States.

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