American Literature 304A
October 24, 2011
“Rip Van Winkle”
America’s peaceful myth
Myths have engaged the human race for centuries. By definition, mythology consists of bizarre characters, remote locations, and fantastic events. “Rip Van Winkle”, the story of a man who ran to the peaceful refuge of the forest, fell asleep, and woke up 20 years later, is part of America’s own mythology. The reader is drawn into a peaceful setting surrounding Rip’s rather fantastical story. The author, Washington Irving, uses strange characters, remote locations, and incredible events to demonstrate the American value of a peace.
Irving portrayed this value by exaggerating the characters’ traits. Rip Van Winkle, for example, is so laid back that he neglects his own farm. And then again, he is not lazy, for “he would never even refuse to assist a neighbor in the roughest toil,” (64). He lives a very peaceful existence, but “the unlucky Rip was at length routed by his termagant wife, who would suddenly break in upon the tranquility of the assemblage” (66). When Dame Van Winkle comes around Rip, the calm is shattered and her nagging turmoil reigns. These interruptions, along with Rip’s good disposition, help the audience endorse the safety of Rip’s peace.
Irving again promotes peace by using remote locations. Rip flees to the isolated Catskill Mountains for “his only alternative to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand, and stroll away into the woods,” (67). The mountains are Rip’s escape to find peace where “the still solitudes echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun” (67). Using imagery, Irving makes the woods seem a secluded, peaceful getaway, showing that he and the American people value peace.
The incredible events that take place in this story continue to support the value of peace. What can be more peaceful than sleep? While sleeping 20 years is extreme, the way in which it happens is nonviolent....