Rip Van Winkle Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the youngest of eleven children born in New York City to an English mother and a Scottish father. The first native American to succeed as a professional writer, he remains important as a pioneer in American humor and the development of the short story. Unlike his brothers, Irving did not attend nearby Columbia College. In 1806, he passed his bar examination, but his heart was with literature.
He published History of New York, a comic in which the narrator was his fictional character named Diedrich Knickerbocker. Irving’s writing was so successful that the New York Knicks named their basketball team after Diedrich. Several years later, Irving moved to London and began to study German literature, scribbling original short tales based on his translations. On one inspired day he produced “Rip Van Winkle,” which most scholars describe as the first American short story.
In Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving creates his masterful story by using imagery, irony, moralism, mysticism, and symbolism. To begin, Washington uses imagery to help produce his masterpiece, Rip Van Winkle. Irving uses many descriptive adjectives while describing Rips voyage into the Kaatskill mountains. Just before Winkle encounters the strange beings, he lay musing at the scene of the cliffs scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun, and the shadows that nightfall casts (23).
Irving makes us feel like we are actually next to Rip, watching the sunset. We become even more aware of the beautiful nightfall: When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky, but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory (3). Irving uses adjectives which bring to life the words portraying the sky.
Depicting the mountains, Irving writes: At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape (4). As we read these words, we begin to imagine and see what the scene really looks like. Irving Washington has created a story full of description by using imagery. Next, Washington develops the plot of the story by using irony. After wandering with his gun and his close companion, Wolf, Rip tracks himself into the upper parts of the mountains.
Soon after, Rip comes across a stranger who was carrying what looked like a keg of liquor. So with the help of the Hollands, and a whole day of hiking, Rip falls into a deep, solemn slumber. But when he wakes up, he does not know how long he has slept or where both of his companions have gone off too. When he stumbles back to his home, Rips heart starts to break. He notices that his house is decaying, his favorite dog growls and snarls at his simple existence, and his wife and children are nowhere to be found. If we were in Rips position, we would definitely be confused as well.
In search for answers, Winkle travels into town. Rip becomes aware that things are not as he had left them the day before. People of the town start to notice Rips grotesque appearance, with his long beard, his ancient gun, and unfashionable clothes. They start to walk in a large crowd around him, curious to see whom this unknown creature is. After a few minutes, a woman makes her way to the front of the crowd. At this critical moment a fresh comely woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-bearded man. She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his looks, began to cry (47).
Ironically, Rip discovers that this woman he is speaking with is his little girl who he had left so long ago. There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence. The honest man could contain himself no longer. He caught his daughter and her child in his arms. I am your father! cried he (54). This moment is considered by many to be the climax of the entire story. Rip cannot believe his eyes: All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peering under it in his face for a moment, exclaimed, Sure enough! is Rip Van Winkleit is himself! (55).
How ironic that his beautiful little girl, who was once the subject of the accusation of Rip being a bad parent, had now grown to be a mother. Irving has created the plot of Rip Van Winkle by using irony. Furthermore, Irving utilizes moralism to teach his audience simple life lessons . Irving depicts the religious and moral lessons of Rip Van Winkle. Since simply writing a morality book would not sell or appeal to all people, Irvings message is transmitted directly and indirectly in his writing.
Maybe one could find moralism in Rips relationship with his wife. A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed (5). The henpecked Rip Van Winkle does not get along with his spouse, and when he finds out his wife is dead, there was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence (54). Having a nagging wife could help a husband learn to appreciate nature more. Pesky wives could even force a husband to want to leave his house and take a peaceful break into the wilderness.
For those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad who are under the discipline of shrews at home (6). Irving allows his readers the ability to question ones own life through a given example and make a moral choice to pursue a path of righteousness, or a path of least resistance. Irving has used moralism to convey a sense of teaching throughout his short story. Next, Washington employs mysticism to better enhance the story of Rip Van Winkle. While he escapes from his annoying wife, Rip wanders aimlessly through the wilderness.
In a long ramble of the kind on a fine autumnal day, Rip had unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill mountains (16). While Rip ventures through the Kaatskill Mountains he stumbles upon eerie magical-like situations. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains (3). While he stares blankly over his right shoulder, to his left a man is being robbed, an angry dog snarls at him, a man and woman act out an erotic dance, and a simple man with his dog rests on a knoll, playing a pipe.
What seemed particularly odd to Rip was they maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy he had ever witnessed (34). Winkle drinks a large amount alcohol and easily falls asleep. Was all this really happening to Rip, or did the Kaatskill Mountains put a magical spell on him? Or was Rip hallucinating all of this due to the enchantment of the mountains? Washington employs mysticism to further capture the readers attention. Finally, the employment of symbols helps make Rip Van Winkle a masterpiece.
Although there are several minor symbols hidden throughout the tale — the henpecked wife, the Kaatskill Mountains, and Wolf the dog — one major symbolic reference can be found in Rip Van Winkle. Washington Irving used Rip Van Winkle to symbolically foreshadow the mass awakening of America. The second half of the nineteenth century was dramatically different from the first half. We observe that the horrors of the Civil War caused Americans to awake from their slumber to find America being reshaped by the forces of change in the form of rapid industrialization and urbanization.
Like America, Rip awoke from his slumber very confused. The poor fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man (45). After speaking with the townspeople, Rip is finally starting to figure out what has happened to his life, yet he is still entirely confounded. God knows, exclaimed he, at his wits end; Im not myselfIm somebody elseI was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and theyve changed my gun, and every things changed, and Im changed, and I cant tell whats my name, or who I am! 6). As Rip has changed during his slumber, so has America. In Rip Van Winkle, Irving skillfully creates symbols throughout the story to cause us readers to think beyond the words.
In conclusion, Washington Irving creates his historical short story by using imagery, irony, moralism, mysticism, and symbolism. The story of Rip teaches a lesson, puzzles us with irony, and entertains us with imagery. Rip Van Winkle is a wonderful adventure, and his voyage into the Kaatskill Mountains will forever be studied by schools and fans of literature.