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Washington Irving Rip Van Winkle Summary Essay

“Rip Van Winkle” is an American masterpiece of the short story. It is based on local history but is rooted in European myth and legend. Irving reportedly wrote it one night in England, in June, 1818, after having spent the whole day talking with relatives about the happy times spent in Sleepy Hollow. The author drew on his memories and experiences of the Hudson River Valley and blended them with Old World contributions.

“Rip Van Winkle” is such a well-known tale that almost every child in the United States has read it or heard it narrated at one time or another. Rip is a simple-minded soul who lives in a village by the Catskill Mountains. Beloved by the village, Rip is an easygoing, henpecked husband whose one cross to bear is a shrewish wife who nags him day and night.

One day he wanders into the mountains to go hunting, meets and drinks with English explorer Henry Hudson’s legendary crew, and falls into a deep sleep. He awakens twenty years later and returns to his village to discover that everything has changed. The disturbing news of the dislocation is offset by the discovery that his wife is dead. In time, Rip’s daughter, son, and several villagers identify him, and he is accepted by the others.

One of Irving’s major points is the tumultuous change occurring over the twenty years that the story encompasses. Rip’s little Dutch village had remained the same for generations and symbolized rural peace and prosperity. On his return, everything has drastically changed. The village has grown much larger, new houses stand in place of old ones, and a Yankee hotel occupies the spot where the old Dutch inn once stood. The people are different, too. Gone are the phlegmatic burghers, replaced by active, concerned citizens. Rip returns as an alien to a place that once considered him important; he discovers that life has passed on without his presence.

Irving makes clear that change is inevitable and that one pays a huge price by trying to evade it. He also makes it clear in “Rip Van Winkle” that certain fundamental values may be lost when people prefer change to stability and are willing to sacrifice everything for material prosperity. Rip’s return shows him to be completely disoriented by the march of time.

Irving takes pity on his comical creation, however, and does not punish him. Instead, Rip is allowed back into the new society and tolerated for his eccentricities, almost as if he were a curiosity. Rip has slept through vital political, social, and economic changes, including the Revolutionary War, and he returns ignorant but harmless. Irving’s suggestion, then, is that Rip is a perfect image of America—immature, careless, and above all, innocent—and that may be why he has become a universal figure.

The recurring theme of financial failure evident in two pieces preceding “Rip Van Winkle” is also found here, as is the concept of sterility. Rip awakens twenty years later and discovers that his gun and his faithful dog are gone. He notes the changes in the village and sees another Rip Van Winkle character there, has a sudden loss of identity when he returns, and realizes that there has occurred the birth of a new nation, with the replacement of King George by George Washington. Irving emphasizes the comic rather than the tragic, because Rip turns all the above into a positive affirmation of himself. He acquires a new identity and has a wondrous tale to tell of irresponsibility which counterpoints the stress of puritan ethics.

The tale of “Rip Van Winkle” has found expression in other artistic media. Five stage plays have been made of the story, beginning in 1829. There have been three operas, several children’s shows, and a television film by Francis Ford Coppola in 1985. Perhaps the most famous adaptation was made by noted nineteenth century American actor Joseph Jefferson III, who played the role of Rip for forty-five years in a very popular and much-beloved interpretation. Jefferson’s vehicle proved to be one of America’s most successful plays of the period. In the theater, it far surpassed in popularity Irving’s other masterpiece, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Rip Van Winkle Characters Essay: Historical Events and Personalities as a Background for Rip Van Winkle

Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, written in 1819, is largely concerned with the formation of the United States of America leading up to, and in the years immediately following, The Revolutionary War. Irving’s story follows Rip Van Winkle, a lazy and shiftless man who hikes to the Catskill mountains, where he helps an oddly-dressed man carry a keg to a gathering of similarly outfitted men. After serving the strangers from the keg, Van Winkle takes a drink and falls into a deep slumber, waking twenty years later to find his town unrecognizable.

Irving draws from the momentous events that occur during Van Winkle’s twenty-year slumber: the character falls asleep prior to the American Revolutionary War and awakens in a new nation. This is perhaps most relevant when Van Winkle visits the inn, which after the war has become the Union Hotel and now bears the image of George Washington.

He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George […] but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was stuck in the hand instead of a scepter, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON (Irving, 26).

Inside, Van Winkle’s confusion over the postwar status quo intensifies: he finds that many of his friends died in the war, while according to Ben Florman and Justin Kestler, “the rage Rip incites when he declares himself a subject of the king definitively confirms his status as a strange outsider.”

By exploring the newly-established nation through an outside perspective, Irving illustrates the progress and upheaval of the late 18th century in the United States and the effects of the war on the populace. Van Winkle’s return to his indolent ways after waking up indicates that he is out of sync with postwar ideals of productivity and industry, allowing Irving’way of contrasting 19th century American attitudes with pre-war sentiments.


Irving, W. (1963). Rip Van Winkle, and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: Macmillan.

Ben Florman and Justin Kestler, LitCharts Editors (2016). LitChart on Rip Van Winkle. Retrieved February 11, 2016 from

Analysis of Rip Van Winkle: The Role of Myth in the Book

There was an elderly gentleman from New York city, Diedrich Knickerbocker. He was known for being particularly involved in the origin and culture of the Dutch settlers in that state. The state, where the story of Rip Van Winkle began. He had lived in a miniature, and very old village that might have the very first Dutch settlers established long-long before the American Revolution began, while America was still composed of the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain.

The short story Rip Van Winkle originally written by Washington Irving is a short tale that symbolizes many of the significant traits and values of American mythology to this day. Set back in the past, the story reflects that a lot of changes can occur as time goes by, that not only your environment around you can become different, but your society can too. Throughout the story Rip Van Winkle, it symbolizes many characteristics of the mythology of a nation through its location in time, over the course of events, and the moral lessons conveyed for the whole of the story.

The story’s setting is one huge instance of representing a mythological tale’s values. The story takes place back in time around the 19th century in Europe, the time as when Irving has published the tale. The setting plays a huge role throughout the story as it as a tool to show readers how drastically things may change over time. In a lot of mythology, the story takes place in earlier past periods of time to show more emphasis on the tale itself. By setting it back in time, Irving reserves the Mythological value of the Rip Van Winkle and elaborates on some events in history (Burstein, Andrew). It also helps reader’s experience this feeling or atmosphere by giving them a little hint of what things were like back in time.

In addition to the setting, the events that occur within Rip Van Wrinkle prove to show that the story holds tremendous values to Mythology. For instance, the main character Rip falls into a deep sleep for many years and wakes up to practically a whole new world in front of him. When Rip wakes up, he mentions “I have not slept here all night” which explains he has been sleeping in that spot for a very long time. The exaggeration of these years in a deep sleep reveals its mythological influence throughout the tale. It is doubtful for a man to fall asleep for years in sleep and wake up. Furthermore, before Rip fell into sleep, he was from as stated “…a little village, of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the early times of the province…” and he ended up going back to his village in which was now a “larger and more populous” city (Irving, Washington et al.). These exaggerated factors add prominence to the meaning of the story as well, practically the main plot couldn’t have taken place without the change in time occurring.

Lastly, one of the major mythological values Rip Van Wrinkle expresses in its tale is the positive message and outcome it gives out to the readers. The moral importance of the story is as mentioned before are the effects of change, and even though some bad things may occur, there will or can always be a positive outcome. An instance in this story includes when Rip comes back to the village which has modernized into a more populous city. At first, Rip felt as his “heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of matters which he could not understand” (Irving, Washington et al.). As time went on, however, Rip finds himself finally feeling comfortable with the new environment of his village and he “resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favor” (Irving, Washington et al.). Not only it represents the change of one’s environment, but their adaptations as Rip did. Despite little issues, concluding the story with a positive outcome uncovers and emphasizes even more of mythology’s influence behind the tale. It benefits the reader’s positively by finishing on a good note.

Irving’s story shows the importance of the mythology’s characteristics and how they are used to emphasize the events of a story as a whole (Burstein, Andrew). Not only does the setting and major plot of the story have a huge influence on the reader’s point of view, but also the outcome of the story. Rip Van Wrinkle reveals that placing a story back in a historical time with individual events can leave a reader with a feel for the atmosphere of the story. The story also leaves us with the knowledge of how time affects life’s changes within a place and its people. The Mythological values that were contributed by writing this tale helped emphasize the story’s significance and morals embedded into it.

Works Cited

Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker. New York, Basic Books, 2008.
Irving, Washington et al. Rip Van Winkle And The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

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