Rip Van Winkle and Other Stories

Freedom and revolution in Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” College

Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle” has endured as an American classic that places timeless themes against a backdrop of the American Revolution. Rip Van Winkle, the placid, charitable, idle Dutch-American protagonist enjoys his slow life in a town at the base of the Catskill Mountains. His sole source of agitation is Dam Van Winkle, his wife, who reprimands him constantly for his reluctance to do domestic or farm work. One day while on a walk in the mountains with his dog, Wolf, Rip encounters a group of men dressed in antiquated Dutch clothing, playing nine-pins. Rip is unconcerned with who they are, and drinks their gin, and falls asleep. Upon waking and returning to his village, he realizes that his wife is gone, he recognizes no one, and that the life he knew has vanished. Eventually he is told that one night on the mountain was twenty years, and that the American Revolution has taken place. Although Rip has lost many years, he is now able to enjoy the quiet without his nagging wife. In “Rip Van Winkle”, Irving uses Rip’s story to depict the dramatic changes of the new America following the revolution.

Dame Van Winkle’s nagging is the core inhibitor of Rip’s freedom, and thus is the symbol of the past and the...

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