Rip Van Winkle and Washington Irving, kindred spirits

The first thing that stood out to me in reading Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving was the establishing descriptions of the mountains. It sets a nice scene for the tale that is to come and I can immediately imagine what he is describing. Going up and down a mountain in fog for instance, can have a very strange and otherworldly feeling. Likewise a colorful sunset over the top of a mountain can look absolutely magical. Furthermore Rip strikes me as an easily relatable and likable character. He simply wants to be liked, helpful, able to do his own thing, and hang out with his dog.

As for my deeper analysis of the character, I couldn’t help but notice several parallels between the events that occur within this story and the events that occur in the authors life, as described in the about the author section. For one thing Irving was away from America for seventeen years, and likely came back to completely different circumstances than when he left. Much like Rip waking up twenty years later, Irving must have had to adjust to all of the changes. Not only that, but both Rip, and Irving’s wives die and neither get remarried.

On a less literal note, both kind of do there own thing when they have the free time. Irving helps his brother with his business, and then goes right back to righting when he is no longer needed. Further they both seem to feel the need to make people happy with what they do. Rip is noted to be popular with the children of his village, who “Would shout with joy whenever he approached.” Would play with them and make them things. In a similar manner Irving once wrote satire, intended to amuse readers.

In another comparison, Irving was accused of becoming “Europeanized” upon returning to America after being in London for a time. In a similar manner Rip was accused of being “A Tory” upon returning to his village after sleeping for twenty years. Both had to gradually readjust and prove to the people they returned to that they belonged there. In the end both end up becoming influential story tellers of their time, with Rip becoming famous for the story of his past and the events that happened to him, and Irving becoming popular for his highly influential fiction.

These parallels are fascinating to me in the sense that, often, writers write about what they know. Some of these things may have been unintentional or subconscious on Irving’s part, but it is interesting to see how much of Irving has ended up in the character of Rip Van Winkle, and how much their stories reflect each other.

As a final note I also feel that Irving is making a statement, via Rips confusion and his loss of friends, on just how much the country and the world Rip had known had changed in those twenty years. He seems to be suggesting that you should pay attention to the world around you. As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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