Rip Van Winkle is a simple, good-natured, and hen-pecked man living with his shrewish wife in a village on the Hudson during the years before the Revolution. He does everything except take care of his own farm and family. He helps everyone except his wife and his own folks. His wife keeps nagging in his ears about his carelessness and idleness. To escape his nagging wife, he often goes hunting in the mountains near his home with his gun and dog as his companions. One day, while hunting in the Catskills with his dog Wolf, he meets a dwarf-like stranger dressed in the ancient Dutch fashion. He helps him to carry a keg, and with him joins a party silently engaged in a game of ninepins. Driven by his curiosity and thirst, Rip drinks their wine, which soon leads to his sound sleep. Awaking, he finds twenty years lapsed and his wife dead. He lives with his daughter, now a grownand the mother of a family, in easy circumstances without worrying about the harsh treatment of his wife.
Rip Van Winkle:
Rip Van Winkle is the protagonist in this incredible story. According to the narrator, “Rip Van Winkle was a simple good natured man; he was more over a kind neighbor, and an obedient, hen-pecked husband.” “…he was a great favorite among all of the good wives of the village. The children of the village, would shout with joy whenever he approached.” “ The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.” “ … in a word, Rip was ready to attend to any body’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, it was impossible.” In short, Rip was a man satisfied with present situation, idle, careless, “taking the world easy, ate white bread or brown, which ever could be got with least thought or trouble, and would starve on a penny than work for a pound.”
Rip symbolizes America, which is immature, self-centered, careless, anti-intellectual, imaginative, and jolly as the overgrown child. And he also symbolizes man’s rebellion against hard work. In the end he makes great success not as a hard worker, but as a loafer, a gossip, a dreamer, and an irresponsible never-do-well.
Dame Van Winkle:
She is Rip’s wife, whom Irving calls “ a shrew”, a “virago”, a “termagant”, and woman who even hated dogs. Unlike Rip’s desire for leisure, she symbolized puritanical discipline and the work ethic of Franklin. She wasn’t satisfied with their poor family situation and keeps nagging in her husband’s ears about his carelessness, idleness and the ruin he was bringing to his family. “Morning, noon, and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and every thing her husband said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence.” In the story, Irving successfully creates the character as a typical figure of shrew in American literature. However, as some critics point out, to some extent, the behavior of Rip’s wife is reasonable, considering that what an idle and careless husband she has. And it is not difficult for the reader to find out that she is also a diligent, strong, and brave woman. The different outlook on life between Rip and his wife produced unavoidable contradiction, conflict and disputation between them.
The style of Irving’s work is characterized by simplicity, lucidity, poise, and ease flow. His style gives the reader sensuous beauty. When you read Irving, you can see, smell, taste and touch, and enjoy his lucid style as much as the stories. As one of masterpieces of Irving, Rip Van Winkle embodies quite a few striking features which characterize Irving’s writings.
1). The story is famous for Irving’s special type of humor. His teasing, tongue-in-cheek style of narration has created memorable character in lazy but likable Rip Van Winkle, his shrewish wife, and his endlessly gossiping friends.
Irving’s humor in this story springs from a number of sources as following:
① Making ironic, tongue-in-cheek remarks which say just the opposite of what he means.
For example, when describe Rip’s endlessly gossiping neighbors, Irving writes: “ Certain it is, that he was a great favorite among all the good wives of the village, who as usual, with the amiable sex, took his part in all family squabbles; and never failed, whenever they talked these matters over in their gossiping, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle. ” With the phrases “good wives” and “amiable sex,” Irving is satirizing the village women whom he sees as anything but amiable: they are always ready to attack another woman and to take the man’s part, even if he is a never-do-well. As to Rip’s bad luck of having a shrewish wife, Irving ironically describes it as blessings in the following way: “A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.”
② Using dignified words to produce a half-mocking effect.
Example for this can be found in Irving’s satire on the pretensions of the great men of the town. “ For a long while he used to console himself. When from home, by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle personages of the village; which held its sessions on a bench before a small inn.” “But it would have been worth any statesman’s money to have heard the profound discussions that sometimes took place, when by chance and old newspaper fell into their hands from some passing travelers.” In the above sentences Irving is making fun of the “sessions” of discussions of the “sages, philosophers, and other personages.” Items from an old newspaper among such a group could hardly have provoked a “profound discussion” of value to statesmen.
③ Exaggerating the seriousness of situations.
Examples of exaggeration can be found in Irving’s description of the terrors of Rip nagging wife such as: “ fiery furnace of domestic tribulation,” “ under petticoat government he had long groaned.” and “everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence.”
2). The characters are vivid and true so that they tend to linger in the mind of the reader.
As in the description of Rip’s son: “He was generally seen trooping like a colt at his mother’s heels, equipped in a pair of his father’s cast-off galligaskins, which he had much ado to hold up with one hand, as a fine lady does her train in bad weather. ” and in the description of the most “important” man in the village---Nicholas Vedder: “ at the door of which (the inn) he took his seat from morning till night, just moving sufficiently to avoid the sun and keep in the shade of a large tree; so that the neighbors could tell the hour by his movements as accurately as by as sundial.” In this way, imagination of a poor, untidy and somewhat funny boy who has to wear his mother and father’s clothes and walked (even) like a fine lady, and the regular and leisure way of the old man’s life are vividly carved into the reader’s mind.
3). Irving is good at blending the present with folklore, legends and myths. Though the story is based on a German legend, it has American setting and is told in a manner which is Irving’s alone, that gives the story a kind of vitality. It mixes bits from books with bits from life, fresh observation with childhood memories. Whole passages virtually translated from the German legend are passed off as original creations, while things observed actually at the moment are given the flavor of the past. In short, Irving does more than merely describe the present. As a result, the commonplace present is shrouded in a melancholy mist that gives the glamour to far-away places. The smells and sights and voices of the romantic past are made suddenly vivid.