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Rip Van Winkle and Romanticism
In the world of literature, there are many types of writing that an author can take to express his ideas. Their topics can be explained through life experiences, biographies, poetry, or other forms of literature. One of the forms that authors use is Romanticism. There are many qualities that define the different viewpoints of Romanticism. Rip Van Winkle, “Thanatopsis,” and “The Cross of Snow” are all examples of writing from the period of Romanticism.
Rip Van Winkle is a story written by Washington Irving. This was a story mainly about a lazy man who did not want to do any type of work, at home or at work. He was said to be useless on his farm, his land and property falling to pieces. Irving says, “The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor”(p. 156 1st paragraph), which was just one of Irving’s many uses of inflated language. Madame Van Winkle would always nag on Rip constantly, to do work around the house and possibly even help to raise their children.
Perhaps the nagging of his wife and his dread of labor is what Rip escaped from when he spent a good amount of his time at the village’s small inn in town. “Here they used to sit in the shade, through a long lazy summer’s day, talking listlessly over village gossip, or telling endless sleepy stories about nothing.” (p.157) Even in the security of his peers, his wife would track Rip down, and scold all the men for being among each other, instead of being at home with their families. These surprise visits are what led to Rip’s escape into the Kaatskill Mountains.
After wandering with his gun and his close companion Wolf, Rip tracks himself into the upper parts of the Mountains. Soon after, Rip comes across a stranger who was carrying what looked like a keg of liquor. So with the help of the Hollands, which is Dutch Gin, and a whole day of hiking, Rip fell into a deep, solemn slumber. But when he woke up, he did not know how long he had slept or where both of his companions had gone off too. He rises from his spot, and with his aged gun, he heads back to town, trying to find an excuse for his angry wife as for why he had been gone for so long.
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As he gets closer to his house, he feels his head starting to pound and throb. “ ‘That flagon last night,’ thought he, “has addled my poor head sadly!” (p.160) This shows he has definitely started to feel the effects of the alcohol from the night before. When he arrived, Rip’s heart started to break. His house was decaying, his favorite dog growled and snarled at his simple existence and his wife and children were nowhere to be found. He went on to travel further on into town. Then Rip begins to notice things are not as he had left them the day before. People of the town started to notice Rip’s grotesque appearance, with his long beard, his ancient gun, and unfashionable clothes. They started to walk in a large crowd around him, curious to see whom this unknown creature was.
After a few minutes, a woman makes her way to the front of the crowd. Rip discovers that this woman he is speaking with is his little girl who he had left so long ago. Rip could not believe his eyes. His beautiful little girl, who was once the subject of the accusation of Rip being a bad parent, had now grown to be a mother. “His children too were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody.” (P.156 2nd column) So Rip goes on to live with his daughter and her family. A lot of time has gone by since Rip had last known it to be, so now it would be Rip that would have to change to adjust to the time around him.
The story of Rip Van Winkle was written in the period that is now referred to as American Romanticism. The story was set in a time “ just before the Revolutionary War, which started in 1775, which was before Washington Irving was even born.” (p.153) When Rip returns to his town 20 years later, it was a time when the parties of the Democrats and the Federalist came out. This is known because when Rip was walking back into town he was being asked which side he votes on and “ whether he is a Federalist or a Democrat?” (p. 163 1st column). This is a noted time where political parties and class systems counted in public.
Another piece of work written in the period of Romanticism is “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. This is a poem written about nature, and its ability to heal. The author writes that whatever type of mood you are in, and what u give out to the world, is what you are going to get back. “..For his gayer hours/She has a voice of gladness and a smile/ And eloquence of beauty, and she glides/ Into his darker musings, with a mild/ And healing sympathy, that steals away…(p. 171 lines 3-6).” He talks about death and the possibility of life after death. He writes, “Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim/ Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again (p. 171 lines 22-23).” The theme of the poem is basically about how you will not be alone when you die. You will be reunited with the Earth, as well as your maker. “Thine individual being, shalt thou go/ To mix forever with the elements (p.171 line 25-26). You will be dying the same death, no matter who you are, or what kind of life that you have led. The main point of the poem is that death is your final equalizer.
The title of this poem is “Thanatopsis.” This title is “put together by two Greek words, ‘thanatos’ which means ‘death,’ and ‘opsis’ which means ‘seeing. (p. 170)’ So the title of the poem literally means “seeing death.” A characteristic of Romanticism is that the writers find beauty and truth in the supernatural realm. The writers find beauty and truth in death and dying. He feels that there is no positive reassurance that there is no life after death. It is like once you die, you decompose, giving back to the Earth and the soil. It is a whole idea of the circle of life, and how it is never-ending.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “The Cross of Snow,” 18 years after his second wife had died. “In the long, sleepless watches of the night,” (p.178 line 1) is an example of how he sits up during the night staring at her picture. “The night casts a halo of pale light” (p. 178 line 4) give off images of halos appearing above her head. This gives her the impression that he believes she is an angel. He believes that his wife is up in heaven, constantly looking down on him and looking out for him. The cross that Longfellow talks about actually has meanings, the cross on the mountain in Colorado, and the cross that was on his wall, Jesus’ cross. “Displays a cross of snow upon its side/ Such is the cross I wear upon my breast”(p. 178 line 11-12) is the example of the two crosses Longfellow bears.
A popular characteristic of Romantic writing is to “contemplate the beauty of nature as a path to spiritual and moral development” (p. 144). Longfellow has two meanings for the cross; the cross on the mountain and the cross that is on the wall, the crucifix. He uses these two meanings to describe how her soul and her heart are still with him and his feelings have not changed for her, even though time has come and gone.
These three works were all written in the same time period, but by different authors and on different subjects. Although they differ in topic, meaning, and style, they all have the qualities that classify them to be included in the Romantic genre. They possess characteristics that identify with the supernatural realm, the spiritual path leading to the afterlife, and the act of looking to the past for wisdom. These works were just a few items of the large selections that are included in Romanticism, but they deliver exactly what Romanticism is described to be.