Analysis Rip Van Winkle's Character

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Despite Irving's criticisms, he was a patriot and admirer of both the Revolution and his country, but he had serious questions about their democratic excesses. He was interested in the Revolution throughout his life and had collected many books on the subject. On its primary level, "Rip Van Winkle" is a public celebration of the American Revolution. The story opens with the prefigurative imagery of family breakups, specifically the Kaatskill (Catskill) Mountains that "are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family" (p. 769). In the story, Rip's colonial family is also dismembered as he escapes from his tyrannical wife, but he is finally rediscovered and reintegrated into his new American family at the end. The context of family breakups is significant since there were a flurry of newspaper articles and pamphlets on the eve of the Revolution dealing with the misery of bad marriages and "bad wives" who made the marriage union impossible and hence divorce an inevitable reality. There was hence a psychological dimension to the sudden discourse on divorce, as if the colonists were rehearsing reasons for their inevitable divorce from England.

In this context, Rip is dominated and henpecked by his wife, who is associated with "petticoat government, “the” yoke of matrimony and the yoke of Old England (p. 783. Dame Van Winkle accuses Rip of being lazy, of not maintaining the patrimonial estate—an argument that the British used in the context of the Americans following the French and Indian War (1754–1763). The Americans were hence accused of neglecting their domestic, economic duty in maintaining the British Empire in America. Rip, in this context, engages in a kind of passive resistance à la the prerevolutionary colonies. There is a series of suggested family resemblances encoded in the story, and Rip's marital evasions constitute a metaphoric rebellion against the monarchic wife, the domestic, colonial, petticoat governor. Thus it is significant that Rip, in contrast, helps his neighbors with their labor and that his neighbors take his part against the "bad" wife. The tale Pagara 2 includes recognizable familial commonplaces impinging on Rip's eventual independence and integration into the new American family the national "patrimonial estate" and "union" under new management (p. 771). In other words, Irving is engaged, on various levels, in an allegory of the American Revolution, starting in colonial times when "the country was yet a province of Great Britain" (p. 770). But despite Rip's resistance to the domestic petticoat "governor," he still identifies with the British monarchy, specifically George III, the king the Americans will rebel against in the future. Rip enjoys sitting under the "rubicund portrait of his Majesty George the Third," in a colonial inn, exchanging gossip and stories with his cronies (p. 772). Rip, like the colonists of the time, has not made the ultimate break with Great Britain and has consequently not discovered his new American identity. The story is, among other things, about this discovery, and there is an allusive autobiographical link to the American writer also accused of identifying with the British before coming "home."

After Rip falls in with the ghostly crew of Hendrick Hudson, drinks too much, and sleeps for twenty years, he awakens to a new America. The reference to Hudson who discovered the Hudson River in 1609 and returns with his ghostly gang every twenty years suggests that Rip must have fallen asleep in the year 1769, on the eve of the Revolution, when America was still a colony of Great Britain, and that when he awakens twenty years later the year must be 1789, the year of the French Revolution and the first inauguration of George Washington. Thus the implicit, allusive date is significant and not coincidental. When he...
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