What are the themes of "Rip Van Winkle"?

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Themes - inevitability of change, change doesn't have to mean aging or years passing - what was familiar is now strange - Rip finds a new peaceful existance, but it's in a place which was his home, but is now as foreign as any far-off land. His surprise at the amount of time that has passed is easy to understand, but can be felt by people in ordinary circumstances as well; it is easy to wake up and realize that the last few years have flown by and things have changed. Rip's experience was more dramatic than most, but shares the sense of loss, confusion, and denial.

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The theme of this story centers around the American Revolution. When Rip falls asleep, he is living in a British colony. When he awakens 20 years later, he is living in a brand new country, the United States of America. The picture over his favorite tavern has changed from that of King George to George Washington. Now, men seem more politically aware and Rip overhears them debating politics. But, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Rip almost gets in trouble for saying he is loyal to the king (before he figures out what has happened to him), but he soon slips back into the lazy ways that he followed before falling asleep.

Rip also awakens to another type of independance: his wife has died. He notices that the house is not clean anymore like it was when she was alive, but he is happier to be free of her constant bickering. They did not have a good marriage. He was lazy and she was always yelling at him for being lazy. So, marital conflict is another theme.

You can read a discussion of the themes of this story here on enotes.

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What are some themes explored in "Rip Van Winkle"?

One of the major themes is the inevitability of change. Rip goes to sleep not expecting anything important to have happened during the night; upon waking, he discovers that he has lost years of his life without even knowing it. Rip never thought anything would change; he thought his life would continue as it had in the past without any real difference. However, change occurs without human intervention, and the passage of many years is not necessary to have great changes made.

The very village was altered: it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared.
(Irving, "Rip Van Winkle," bartlby.com

Rip finds a new, peaceful existance in a place which was his home, but is now as foreign as any far-off land. His surprise at the amount of time that has passed is easy to understand, but can be felt by people in ordinary circumstances as well; it is easy to wake up and realize that the last few years have flown by and things have changed. Rip's experience was more dramatic than most, but shares the sense of loss, confusion, and denial.

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What is the theme in Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle"?

The theme or underlying meaning of "Rip Van Winkle" is to highlight the contrasts between the apathetic old days of New York as an English colony with the vigorous new energy it has as part of a new republic.

Rip symbolizes the old days. He is happy-go-lucky, without ambition, and avoids rather then confronts his bullying, shrewish wife. Instead of working in a purposeful way, Rip is happier wandering in the woods with his rifle, fishing, or sitting around the inn under the picture of King George III, sleepily discussing current events that are already a month old.

After he falls asleep for twenty years, he returns to a changed village, now invigorated and fully alive. Its new energy is brought on by the freedom the country enjoys as an independent republic and participatory democracy. Lackadaisical, dreamy men like Rip are relics of another era, out of place in this new, more vigorous, and purposeful world.

In writing a story that highlights the pride and positive changes that independence has brought, Irving participates in building the mythos of the young new United States.

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What is the theme in Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle"?

Washington Irving's story of Rip Van Winkle begs the question, "What would it be like to sleep through your life and wake up an old man?" Not only that, but the themes of marriage and the change of governments during the American Revolutionary period also permeate the story. Another possible theme would be the ultimate way of avoiding one's duties and responsibilities. For example, Mrs. Van Winkle yells at her husband for being lazy and never following through on his duties. Rip isn't happy with his marriage, so it is ironic that he finds a way to subconsciously avoid dealing with it by falling asleep until she dies. He also avoids dealing with the issues surrounding the American Revolution, choosing a side--Loyalist or Patriot, and having to fight a war. The next question to be asked is if Rip feels like he missed out on life by avoiding it through sleep, or if it was exactly what he would have chosen had the choice been consciously given to him?

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What could some of the truths or lessons be in the story "Rip Van Winkle"?

One lesson that seems to pervade Irving's humorous tale is that, ironically, the indolent Rip, at least, knows how to enjoy the beauty of nature and the value of friendship.

A strong theme lies with that of the American Revolution. Critics have long wondered at the implications of Irving:  Does he think that George Washington is not so different from King George, after all?  Is Rip van Winkle's laziness a call for more involvment in politics, or does it really not matter?

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