Washington Irving was an American short story writer and historian. He is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The main character in ‘Rip Van Winkle,” falls asleep for many years then wakes up to see that everything around him has changed drastically. This is important for the American mythology because Irving used these short stories to explore these myths and legends. In Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle,” the characteristics that are implemented into the story are that it is set in the past, is filled with strange or exaggerated characters, and there is a positive message about a nation and its people.
First, Irving implemented the characteristic that the story is set in the past. For instance, when Rip noticed the difference in the ruby face of George Washington, ‘The red coat was changed for one of blue and bluff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and under-neath was painted in large characters, General Washington” (Irving 39). Seeing the significant change in George Washington to General Washington shows it was set i the past during the time of George Washington’s life. Another example is when major U.S. events have happened while he was asleep, ‘How that there had been a Revolutionary War -that the country had thrown off the yoke of old England-and that, instead of being a subject of his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States” (Irving 48). He was asleep during one of the major wars that took place in the United States which further proved that it took place during the past. Overall, Irving used the idea of an American mythology to explore the idea of mixing myths and legends with the idea of the values associated with the United States back in the past when the U.S. was starting to form into a developed nation.
Furthermore, Irving implemented the characteristic that the story is filled with strange or exaggerated characters. One example was when he met the strange folks in the mountains, ‘What seemed particularly odd to Rip was that though, these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of pleasure he had ever witnessed” (Irving 28). The way that they were dressed was described in detail and their clothes were heavily exaggerated.
Additionally, another example was ‘The appearance of Rip, with his long, grizzled beard, his rusty fowling-piece, his uncouth dress and an army of women and children at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians” (Irving 40). Perhaps of the most strange characters in the story was Rip as he was the one who fell asleep for twenty years. Overall, the story is filled with dozens of strange and exaggerated characters but as Rip went through his exploration of the changes from his time to twenty years later, he saw how much more developed and sustained the community was.
Finally, Irving implemented the characteristic that the story has a positive message about the United States of America and its people. One example was, ‘He was surprised to see any human being in this lonely and unfrequented place, but supposing it to be someone of the neighborhood in need of assistance, he hastened down to yield it” (Irving 25). Another example seen in the story is, ‘As he approached the village he met a number of people, but none whom he knew, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself acquainted with everyone in the county round” (Irving 34-35)
In conclusion, Irving implemented the characteristics in ‘Rip Van Winkle”, that it is set in the past, is filled with strange or exaggerated characters, and there is a positive message about a nation and its people. These characteris that are seen in the story are what make the story more memorable and interesting to the reader. There are many reasons why this specific short story of his is one of his most famous pieces of writing. But one main reason is that it was a different take on the time period as he mixed the myths and legends with the reality of the people back then.
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