What does Rip Van Winkle symbolize?

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Rip Van Winkle symbolizes the past. While everything else has changed around him, he still remains the same. In some respects, this is a problem for Rip, because when he wakes up after twenty years, he finds it hard to adapt to his surroundings. On the other hand, Rip's remaining the same allows him to stay above the fray and to see out the rest of his days in idleness without worrying too much about anything.

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Rip Van Winkle is very much a symbol of the past. He represents that world of the Catskill Mountains that used to exist prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War but which has changed beyond recognition in the twenty years that Rip has been asleep. Life may have changed,...

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but Rip has not. He's a living, breathing artifact of history, a figure from a vanished Dutch colonial past.

As such, he becomes the object of curiosity and fascination among the villagers. They don't know quite what to make of this strange man with the long beard who claims to be a subject of King George III. But the villagers soon warm to the stranger in their midst—and to most of them he is a stranger, even though he's lived his whole life in the village—which makes life easier for Rip. Once he's been accepted, he can go back to his former life of easeful idleness, which was taken to extreme lengths in his two-decades-long slumber.

That the villagers should have accepted Rip is a sign that they've come to terms with the past—the pre-revolutionary past, to be precise. Although the United States is still a young country when Rip wakes up from his enchanted sleep, the people value their history, and it's important for them to preserve their past. That said, life has moved on, and the historical era that Rip represents has gone for good.

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What does Rip Van Winkle's wolf represent?

Wolf is the name of Rip Van Winkle's dog. In many ways, I'd suggest that Wolf represents Winkle's life back in the colonial era, lost forever after his long sleep, and the changes that have reshaped the former colonies, now United States, in that time. After all, Wolf plays a role on both sides of that divide.

Before Winkle's sleep, Wolf is Rip's loyal companion and joint-sufferer under his wife's force of personality. When Rip Van Winkle awakens from his sleep, it is to find a radically changed world, which he has severe difficulties re-assimilating into. This difficulty is reflected in his encounter with his dog—or at least in his encounter with what he believes to be his dog. He finds that Wolf has changed dramatically in the years where Rip was gone. The dog, now described as "half-starved" and a "cur," shows hostility to Rip.

Wolf's change reflects the larger changes which have shaped this transition from the colonial era to the post-Revolutionary War United States. Rip Van Winkle's past has been lost to him, much like the Wolf he remembers.

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