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Transformation and Freedom in Rip Van Winkle
Washington Irving's, "Rip Van Winkle" presented a tale of a "dreamer." Rip Van Winkle was a family man
who worked odd jobs around town, but managed to slip away from doing his own work around his farm. He
was "one of those happy mortals...who take[s] the world easy." (pg. 404). He constantly struggled with the
"henpecking" of his wife. Van Winkle found refuge and comfort going squirrel shooting with his dog. "Rip
Van Winkle" depicts a story of a man longing to be free, and of the transformation that occurs to him and the
Van Winkle "would have whistled life away" (pg. 404) had it not been for his wife . This served as a
foreshadow for what was to come. Van Winkle wanted peace and to be left alone. He was like a kid; he often
"made their playthings, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles..." (pg. 403). He always did what could "be
got with least thought or trouble," (pg.404) just as a child often does. He just "shrugged his shoulders...but
said nothing," (pg. 404) to Dame Van Winkle's lectures. He was tired of hearing her, yet did nothing to
change his behaviors or at least to try to please her. Van Winkle did "dream" his life away. He was gone for
twenty years and returns to find his town and life different from how he had left it. I believe he just left one
day and before he knew it, twenty years had past.
Dame Van Winkle represented the Revolutionary War. "The changes of states and empires made but little
impression on him," (pg. 412) but he did displease the "petticoat government." He describes the government
as if it were a woman. "Petticoat" is a representation of Dame Van Winkle. Van Winkle pays no attention to his
wife nor does he fight back, just as he did not fight in the war. Or, was this his war he was battling? When
Van Winkle reflects on top of the mountain, "he heaved a heavy sigh when he thought of encountering the
terrors of Dame Van Winkle." (pg. 406) "Terrors" come to mind when one thinks of war. Van Winkle doesn't
regard Dame as his wife, rather he thinks of her as "Dame Van Winkle," with no affection.
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intollerable, like the colonists felt about the government.
"Rip Van Winkle" also portrays the life of a town before and after "liberty." Van Winkle comes back to his"
town he can hardly recognize and to friends he knew, that are no longer there. He is confused as to who he
actually is. This foreshadows that he has a new life. Twenty years ago he was known as a lazy man. He comes
back after the Revolutionary War--after Dame Van Winkle's death and becomes a legend. Now Van Winkle
has a purpose--he now can be "liberated" from Dame Van Winkle. He told his story to everyone that came to
town. Towards the beginning of "Rip Van Winkle" it states that Rip Van Winkle was a mortal. This makes him
credible-that he is human, just as any of us. And just like any of us, his story could be true.
"I'm not myself...that's somebody else, got into my shoes," he states (pg. 411). He also declares, "...they've
changed my name, or who I am!" (pg. 411). Your name is your identity-who you are. The town has changed
Rip Van Winkle. He is a "legend"-they even have a counterpart of him.
Both Van Winkle and the town have transformed--the end of the war has liberated them. For the war brought
liberty and citizenship to the town, and the end of Dame Van Winkle brought liberty to Rip. He was happy to be
freed "of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased."(pg. 412) The little village inn
has become a large building-"The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle." How fitting that the hotel was given
such a name. This symbolized the union of him with his town and his family. Especially since he spent his
time at Mr. Doolittle's, sharing his story with everyone that came by.
The Norton Anthology: American Literature. New York: Norton & Company, 1995.