In Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” an allegorical reading can be seen. The genius of Irving shines through, in not only his representation in the story, but also in his ability to represent both sides of the hot political issues of the day. Because it was written during the revolutionary times, Irving had to cater to a mixed audience of Colonists and Tories. The reader’s political interest, whether British or Colonial, is mutually represented allegorically in “Rip Van Winkle,” depending on who is reading it. Irving uses Rip, Dame, and his setting to relate these allegorical images on both sides. Irving would achieve success in both England and America, in large part because his political satires had individual allegorical meanings.
In an English interpretation, one could see Rip Van Winkle as the mother country or England. Rip is “a kind neighbor, and an obedient hen-pecked husband .” (430) To an English citizen reading this story, it could easily represent the English monarchy. For years before the revolution, America had defied the King by refusing to pay taxes; support the militia that was protecting it from the French, Spanish, and Indians; and in many ways hindering progress in the colonies. England could easily have been seen as “hen-pecked” in the ways in which it handled the colonies. Many of the tax acts, such as the Stamp act, were ignored and monarchy was viewed as inept in dealing with the colonies. The Crown levied no penalties against the colonist when these acts were defied. The Crown just accepted not getting the money.
Rip is viewed in the town as a person who helped everyone with anything, except his own family- “…he was a simple ...
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Irving uses many other images and scenes within this story that could be delved into further. However, I believe these three main points, along with the knowledge of the political climate of the times, shows Irving’s genius in representing both sides of the political gamut. Irving was able to cater to both the British and the Colonist without offending either side. Irving’s genius was that even though this was an allegory of its time, its elements could represent either or both sides of the conflict during the Revolution. This dual representation in an allegorical story ensured his success, in both countries as a writer. It allowed Irving to make a political statement without taking sides.
Irving, Washington. “Rip Van Winkle.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Bayn. New York: Norton & Company, 1999.
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