“Rip Van Winkle” Summary and Analysis

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“Rip Van Winkle” is a short tale written by Washington Irving in 1819. Irving was a famous man who wrote so many stories including satirical essays, biographies, sketches, tales, poems and publications in different magazines (Salmagundi with his brother, as an example). One of his aims during his life was to divulge some beliefs or movements of his time through fiction. As we can see, “Rip Van Winkle” is a good example of this because he plays with the formation of Unites States of America after the American Revolution.

Irving also was the first American writer of the 19th Century to achieve international reputation and it is also important his consideration as a pioneer of the short story in this centenary.

Firstly, I am going to summarize briefly this tale. Irving describes in third person the biography of Rip Van Winkle, “a simple good natured man… obedient, henpecked husband” (Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”) who lives in a province when the country was yet part of Great Britain. He is loved by all the wives of the village, children, and neighbors but not by his own family; especially by his wife. Dame Van Winkle can be seen as his antagonist: she is upset and screaming all the time because Rip and his laziness. She cannot understand how he can be ready to any business if it is not to his own. Likewise, she is never in peace and tranquility as his husband. All these marital problems are consoled by Rip going to a club of philosophers on a bench which has a portrait of George the Third. It was controlled by an important man in the village called Nicholas Veder. Besides this activity, he used to go to the mountains with his gun and his dog called Wolf. One day, Rips meets a strange man because he was calling his name with shouts in the middle of the woods and Rip goes with him into a crew where drinks a strange liqueur with a lot of weird and exotic people. After this, he fall asleep during twenty years and when Rip awakes he discovers that his gun is different and his dog is not there. He is really worried about what her wife is going to say to him because he has been out a long time although he does not know how long has it has really been. He comes back to his village and he sees how everything has changed as the time has gone. Not only his own environment had become different but his society too: Dame Van Winkle had broken a blood vessel and died, some friends died, and his dog had forgotten about him.

Even the neighbors pointed a man who looks exactly like Rip when he had gone to the woods.
At the beginning he was totally disoriented because even the buildings were totally different: his own home, all the houses, his old inn resort was gone and now it was called “The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle” and the King George portrait was with a lot of changes, like metamorphosed and now there is one of General Washington. Thanks to an ancient in the village who recognized him everyone accepts him again; even his own daughter called Judith Gardenier. Thereby, Rip lived now with her child and started a new life “having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can do nothing with impunity”. The end of this story shows how he had now got rid of his difficult marriage and was a quiet man again without the weight of a tyrannical woman by his side.

Now I am going to analyze this story making a comparison with the famous American Dream. The American Dream is a national ethos of the Unites States which represents the belief that everyone in the US has the chance to be successful and happy if they work hard (Cambridge Dictionary) .It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, ... regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position (Adams, Epic of America).

As we can see, Irving in this tale is satirizing this belief: Rip gets the life he had dreamt without any effort, he simply loses twenty years of his life for having accidentally drunk that liquor in the woods. However, the story is clearly a representation of the American dream that comes after those twenty years of Revolution.

We can see the before and after of this Revolution and how everything has changed. A new society is developed through freedom during these years of Revolution and we have some examples of this. The first is the portrait of The King George the Third which has been removed and now there is one General Washington's representation instead of it.

The second is how the people from from the village (recent Americans) are speaking under it about the new government and all the opportunities that the American Revolution has brought to this village “The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility” (Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”).

The third is the freedom that Rip Van Winkle feels because of the death of his own wife. In my personal opinion, this marital relationship represents the fight between Great Britain and the colonies during the American Revolution. The colonies do not want to change but Great Britain forced them to follow and love the homeland. We could observe a representation of Dame Van Winkle (homeland) and Rip (the colonies that were unpleasant with Great Britain). Also the fact that the time before the revolution was a hard time as the matrimony of the protagonists of this short story.

I have focused too in how Irving praises the “majestic” mountains of Kaastskill which Europe lacks. Nevertheless, the use of these ancient explorers into Rip Van Winkle only to show that although America has formed its own identity, no one can break its connection with Europe. No matter when America was still under tyranny of the British rule, some people still cannot cut the blood relationship with Europe. Hence, America is like a child that has been born, a new identity that has been created but always with lines that unites it with the European community.

As a conclusion and to finish this essay I am going to say that all of these story's facts show us Rip as a non-successful and non-prototype dreamer. He does not work hard for anything and he becomes happy only because he can be as lazy as he has always been. Thanks to the death of his wife he can live that life he has always dream about: “he had got his neck out of the yoke matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle” (Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”).

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“Rip Van Winkle” Summary and Analysis. (2021, Feb 25). Retrieved November 30, 2023 , from

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