An Examination of Rip's Character in Irving's Rip Van Winkle


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An Examination of Rip's Character in Irving's Rip Van Winkle


Washington Irving wrote Rip Van Winkle with the American people in mind. At this time society was changing drastically. America was attempting to go through a struggle with forming their own identity. America was wanting to have an identity that would set them free from English culture and rule. Irving uses his main character, Rip Van Winkle, to symbolize America. Rip goes through the same struggles that America was going through at this time before and after the Revolution. Irving uses such great symbolism in this story to describe the changes that American society went through. This story covers a wide variety of time periods including: America before English rule, early American colonies under English rule, and America after the Revolutionary War.


One main issue of the story was one of identity, especially at this time in history. Rip was having difficulty finding himself throughout the story. His wife constantly nagged at him probably all in good reason. His farm was fading away. He was lazy and unproductive. He underwent many emotional changes throughout the story. He didn't appreciate what he had, and before he could even blink it was gone. Life is too short to not appreciate everything in it and enjoy it to the fullest.


In the first paragraph I chose to look at, it leads right into when Rip goes off for a walk to go squirrel shooting. Although the main reason for his walk was to get away for his nagging wife. The story could be interpreted in two different ways. One being that Rip was a lazy bum who did not take responsibility for his wife, children, and farm. He rather go out and drink and hang with his buddies at the tavern. I believe Irving specifically wrote this story for men. The story makes the wife sound like the wretched, nagging, old ugly woman and all she cares about is bothering her husband. This to me sounds all to familiar to what goes on still to this day. I believe the story makes Dame Van Winkle out to be the one in change of the power, but in reality I believe it was Rip.

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If he was so powerless then he would do what she says to do all the time, but he doesn't, instead he ignores it and walks away. At this point in the story, he walks up into the Kaatskill mountains. Once up there he takes in all the beauty that surrounds him. To him this was heaven. Away from everything, including most of all his wife. He describes the river and mountains to be magical, which as we can see later really are. Rip has already made it up the highest point on the mountain by accident, He was trying to find his favorite spot to go hunting. One thing I noticed was the intense descriptions of the American scenery. Irving uses many words such as "magical" to describe the scene. He goes on to describe the Hudson river as "lordly." This to reflect on its magnificent size, especially from his view.


In the next paragraph, Rip describes the other side of the mountain. This he describes as "far down, deep, wild, and lonely." This to me sounds like his interpretation of what his life is now. It describes life in the village where he lives, his home life. At this point Rip was faced with the question of where to go? Should he go back down to the pit of hell or stay up in the glorious, peaceful mountains. This is just one of the many comparisons Irving makes though out the story. Dark is coming and Rip is not looking forwarded to returning to his wife.


In the third paragraph, was when Rip heard the voice calling his name. At this point Rip sees a man and thinks its one of his neighbors so hurries down to help him. Rip seems to have his values out of place. He runs immediately to help a stranger in need, but won't help his own family who needs him most of all. Dame Van Winkle might represent the Puritan's voice. Rip has completely no interest in material gain. He seems to be going against the conventional American life. When he wakes from the sleep this could symbolize his awakening into American awareness. The question is does being high on the Kaatskill mountains have any reason for Rip falling asleep for twenty years? Is there some sort of evil that comes from these mountains that led to his sleeping? Was it to teach Rip a lesson in life? That you should always treasure what you have on this earth especially your family. For they are the ones who love you unconditionally.


After Rip meets this dwarf-like stranger he helps him carry a keg of liquor down the hill, where he shares with him a drink. This is where he falls into a deep sleep. It seems like to me that the dwarf is symbolizing temptation. Rip knows it's late and he needs to get back home but instead is willing rather to help a stranger and engage in some alcoholic beverages. I believe in one way that Rip was a very unhappy man. He felt he had nothing to live for anymore. It sounds like his home life was very distraught whether that be his or her fault. The point being that he was unhappy and needed to be freed from her. I think God must have answered his prayers and gave him a fresh beginning.


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