Rip Van Winkle Theme Essay Introductions

“RIP VAN WINKLE,” published as the end of the first installment of Irving’s SKETCH BOOK, purports to be “A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker"--Irving’s imaginary chronicler of the early Dutch history of New York.

The story itself could hardly be simpler. Rip, a good-natured, lazy fellow, is henpecked by his wife, whom he escapes by taking daylong jaunts with his gun and dog into the Catskill Mountains. One evening, having scrambled onto one of the highest peaks, he is hailed by a stranger dressed in “the antique Dutch fashion,” who without speaking asks Rip to help him with a keg he is carrying. Rip complies, and the stranger leads him to a hollow where a whole company of similarly dressed men is playing a ninepins.

Rip begins to drink along with them, falls asleep, and awakes to find himself alone with an old rusty gun beside him. When he gets home it emerges that he has slept right through the American Revolution; his wife is dead, so, happier if no wiser, he goes back to his old idle ways and is “reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village.”

On one level the story is a gentle satire on politics: Freedom to Rip has nothing to do with King George or George Washington, but is simply a matter of being out from under his wife. “RIP VAN WINKLE” is also a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Its charm however, lies mostly in Irving’s invocation of “the magical hues and shapes” of those “fairy mountains,” where the ghosts of Henry Hudson and his crew play at nine-pins and make the thunder.


Bowden, Mary Weatherspoon. Washington Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A general introduction to the work, including a chronology and an annotated bibliography. Bowden emphasizes the integrity of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., in which “Rip Van Winkle” first appeared, and suggests that Irving’s greatest literary accomplishment was his style.

Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. Although Hedges believes that Irving reached an intellectual dead end by 1825, he asserts that in his greatest works, including “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving stands as an important forerunner in style to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James and in narrative and thematic concerns to Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville.

Myers, Andrew B., ed. A Century of Commentary on the Works of Washington Irving. New York: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976. A representative sampling of critical writing about Irving.

Roth, Martin. Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington Irving. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976. Argues that “Rip Van Winkle” is one of the few exceptions to a decline in Irving’s work already underway by the writing of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Emphasizes the “Americanness” of Irving, the way he was shaped by, and came to identify himself with, his country and its particular heritage. The tale Irving tells in “Rip Van Winkle” reenacts Americans’ doubts about identity and their fantasies of escape.

Essay on Character And Theme In Rip Van Winkle

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In Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," Rip's character is closely correlated with the theme of nature and its prominence over the ever-changing world. The story is set in the Kaatskill Mountains, an important setting with a luminance that does not falter throughout. Similarly, Rip is immediately described as a respectable and well liked man in his mountainous setting. Right off the bat, the two can be easily associated. The magical elements in the story cause Rip to fall asleep for twenty years, and upon waking, he is in a world completely changed by the progression of time. However, despite the extreme alterations, only Rip and the nature that he is so familiar with are able to prevail, remaining ultimately unaffected by the…show more content…

Almost as soon as the grand setting is told, the designation of the story itself, the character Rip Van Winkle, is introduced. He is depicted ideally as well, said to be simple and widely liked, and most importantly good natured. Without hesitation, it is stated that he is a descendant of a family who played a more than respectable role in the history that helped to capture and establish the land that is now his mountainous village. He is recognized as more than the average citizen already, perhaps one of great influence, not unlike the nature itself. "He was, moreover, a kind neighbor and an obedient henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity," (Irving 702). Despite this constant distressing of his spouse, made eminent in the opening pages, Rip was able to ignore the chronic squabbling and seek elsewhere for loyal friendships, which in turn, boosted his regard. After some time, however, the nagging became overbearing, and he was forced to flee to the highest peak of the mountains where he would be surrounded by nature, and thus was at ease with himself. However, Irving introduces a twist; the nature of the mountains cast a magical command upon Rip and forced him into a sound sleep for twenty years. When he awoke Rip found himself an old man in a place that was, at first,

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