The symbolic tale of Rip Van Winkle was one of many different theories and interpretations. The main character of the story, Rip had accidentally fallen asleep at the Kaatsberg or Catskill mountains for twenty years, unaware of how much time has passed when finally awakening. Many major events and changes had occurred in his personal life and in the world around him in all of his missed time. For one, the Revolutionary War had begun and concluded, causing major differences from the pre-revolutionary period that he had known. The tale attempts to show the life of a general American before and after America received its independence, however Rip was unaware at the time of his awakening. Rip emphasized how waking up and being a free citizen made little impression on him (Irving 7).
Rips character could ultimately be symbolizing America, and its struggles, where he is portrayed as a modest and respectful person, as well as immature. Rip and his wife, Dame do not have a good relationship, where they are constantly fight and complaining about one another. ‘Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as years of matrimony rolled on” (Irving 3). Dame was ultimately complaining about Rip’s laziness and nagging him, which essentially pushed away and lead him to decide to leave home with his gun and dog and stroll into the woods, this was the last time he has been seen and heard from.
The poor relationship between the married couple is ultimately symbolizing the hardships between the two countries fighting at this time, with Rip symbolizing America, and his wife representing England. The reason I have come to this conclusion is because the idea of Rip symbolizing America reflects on the termination of the war. For one, America had won the war against Britain, which occurred during his sleep. He awoke to the news that his wife, who had been constantly nagging and annoying him had died. His awakening symbolizes the conclusion of the war, where Dame, who symbolizes England had lost the war when she died. These events led up to Americas freedom as well as Rip’s freedom from his wife. ‘Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle with impunity” (Irving 7), Rip had ultimately been happy that he was no longer being nagged by his wife or burdened with responsibilities.
The confusion and misfortune of the past twenty years of Rip’s life began shortly after meeting ‘odd-looking” personages in the woods. They had a keg, in which they emptied the contents into flagons, signaling him to wait and touch nothing. However, when no one was looking, Rip decided to taste the drink, which he found to be the flavor of the excellent Hollands; he decided to repeatedly taste the beverage. This ultimately caused his senses to be overpowered, where his eyes rolled into his head, and he fell into a deep sleep (Irving 4). This event is the last memory he had upon his awakening twenty years later, leading the beverage to be the cause of his twenty-yearlong nap. ‘Rip’s heart died away, at hearing of these changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone (Irving 6). At this point of the story, he is still unaware of what has happened to him and longs to find someone who knows him. When making his way back to his house, he finds the neighborhood filled with unfamiliar faces, leading him to a great amount of confusion.
Rip and Dame’s children had been misfortune to be the kids of the unhappy couple, because for one, they had no stable up growing and parental guidance. ‘His children were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody” (Irving 2)”. His son Rip, had taken on the idea of inheriting the habits and ways of his father, following his disappearance. With the ever-changing times and fashion, Rip Jr. had been struggling to wear his father’s old trousers. He had to take on the task of holding them up with one hand at all times, due to the over worn and outdated clothing he was trying to fit into. Due to their close relationship with Rip and Dame, their kids ultimately symbolize apart of the American Revolutionary war as well, and the causes and effects of it.
The kid’s health conditions and the way they were portrayed as ragged and poor, combined with their relationship to their father, representing America could cause them to be Irving’s representation of the conditions of America at the time. It becomes evident that after he wakens, his daughter’s life is significantly better than before, where he first sees her with a child in her arms, portraying that she is now married with a family of her own. This could be representing the increase of health conditions and image of America, because before the war these children acted as though they were raised by nobody. The increase in their behavior and image came along with the upcoming of America after gaining its independence. The kids could also be representing American colonists, due to the fact that nobody took care of them, they had poor manners, and wore hand-me-downs.
The underlying lesson being portrayed in the text is that time goes on and things continue to change regardless of any one person. For example, whether a person is there or not, the life of everyone else will still continue on and the world will change whether they are ready for it or not. Ultimately, time does not stop and this happened to Rip, where he thought life and his environment would be the same when he awoke, although time did not wait and the world kept moving regardless is he was ready for it or not. Rip was ultimately saddened at this point of the story, because his dog, Wolf is getting older and his children are growing up even though he had missed it.
A constant theme throughout the story is Rip’s laziness, where the majority of his wife’s nagging regarded to her annoyance of his lack of motivation. He was ultimately punished for his laziness, where his twenty-year sleep resulted in him missing out on important events in his life, including the death of his wife. Although this was a downfall, it was also a reward in some ways; he was now freed of her nagging and would not have to escape her again by going into the woods. Due to this major change in his life, life after waking up was ultimately better for him, regardless of all that he had missed out on. This constant pattern that has been seen throughout the text, was ultimately put back together at the end, when finding out the significance of it.
I had received my idea on the symbolism being portrayed in the story from the authors constant emphasis of how Rip had slept through the war. By doing this, the author drew attention to the importance that event had on the story and the major changes, causing an easier interpretation of what he is possibly trying to tell hidden in his text. There had also been significant people in Rip’s life, such as the school master and an old neighbor of his who had went off to the army at the start of this war. I find that this specific point would not have been significant, or possibly mentioned if the war had no meaning to the text or no underlying message.
To conclude, I found that this text was fairly simple to come up with my own interpretation for, due to the patterns being portrayed throughout. I also found that my ideas are made evident in the text, due to the characteristics of each person in the story portraying similar characteristic to what I had argued they represent. For example, Rip who I believe portrays America had similar characteristics as to how other countries viewed America at that time. They were seen as unaware, ignorant, and lazy people, where his laziness had been a common pattern throughout the whole story. Overall, I found that the author had intended to incorporate a hidden story in the text, though found that he had intended to make it easy to uncover.
Irving, W. (1820). The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. New York: C. S. Van Winkle.
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