Irvings Feminist Approach

Topics: Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving, Short story Pages: 6 (1053 words) Published: October 5, 2006
Taylor Bryant
English 11 HH
September 26, 2006

Irving's Feminist Approach in Literature

Washington Irving, a Romanticist short story writer was best known for his high

comedy, and irony. Irving used various symbols to portray hidden meanings, that every page of

a story should be relevant to what he is trying to convey overall. Irving believed that a short

story was a "frame on which to stretch materials." Meaning that he was more concerned with

literary devices rather than the story as a whole. In the two stories Rip Van Winkle, and The

Spectre Bridegroom, Irving gives the readers a view of how women were portrayed during the

late 1700'and early 1800's. He gives women an idea of how women should act, as well as how

they shouldn't. He uses various hidden symbols to portray women negatively and positively, in

both stories. He categorizes women the way that they were "supposed" to act during his time.

In Rip Van Winkle the one woman in the story, Dame Van Winkle is portrayed as being

termagant, and a nuisance in Rip Van Winkle's life. The main factor as to why Dame Van

Winkle is such a hassle is because she doesn't abide to her husbands rules, she's not what other

men would consider the "typical housewife." The husbands "role" in the house during

this time period was to provide for the family, and Rip was clearly not fulfilling his

responsibility. Furthermore, Rip is described as a man "who was ready to attend to anybody's

business but his own" (20). Dame Van Winkle, being in the position that she is, is forced to

constantly argue with Rip until he owns up to his obligation as a husband. Showing the lack of

respect for woman during this time, "Dame" Van Winkle is not given a proper name, she is

simply referred to as Rip Van Winkle's wife. Irving, at one point states "If left to himself, he

would have whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning his

ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family" (20). This

in a sense is foreshadowing the idea that Rip slept through 20 years of his life, also blamed on

the verbal abuse from Dame. When Rip finds out of the news of his wife "there was a drop of

comfort, at least, in his intelligence" (30). He is relieved and in a sense "free" from his

termagant wife. "When life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught

out of Rip Van Winkle's flagon" (32).

In a way, Irving uses the characters by having them represent America's struggle in the

Revolutionary war. Rip Van Winkle represented America, the struggle he was encountering

with Dame Van Winkle is similar to the battle America had against England, which is

represented by Dame Van Winkle. When Rip awakens from his 20 year rest, he now has a

purpose, and can be "liberated" from Dame Van Winkle. Throughout the story Irving portrays

Dame Van Winkle as the villain, and Rip Van Winkle as a "victim."

In the Spectre Bridegroom: A Travelers Tale, Irving portrays women, in a similar

approach, in the fact that they didn't have a say in what went on in their lives. The one woman

presented in this story is known as the baron's daughter. This showed that Irving believed

she wasn't worthy enough to have a name in his story. Although the baron's daughter is

described as being beautiful, Irving uses his sense of comedy and states, "She could read

without great difficulty . . . and could sign her name without missing a letter"(9). Even so, it

may seem that Irving is praising her for being smart, in reality he is actually portraying her as

dim-witted. The baron's daughter was a sheltered, obedient "heiress." The baron's daughter

was arranged to marry a Baron Von Landshort, set up by her father. She always did what she

was told by her father as well as her aunts, and was...
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