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Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”

Washington Irving is now immortalized as a weaver of fantastic stories that take some of the circumstances of everyday life and combine them with some fantasy that results in stories that are popular hundreds of years after their first introduction in American literature. Such is the case in “Rip Van Winkle”, a tale of an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances.

This research will discuss the plot of the story as well as the interesting aspects of the story that have led to its longevity in the minds of readers young and old alike. Actual and Implied Plot of the Story As interesting as the actual plot of “Rip Van Winkle” may be, it is also interesting to speculate as to what Irving was implying or trying to say when he wrote the story. Rip Van Winkle is described in the story as a friendly, easygoing man with a wife and children.

However, it is also pointed out that Van Winkle was the type of individual who could sit for hours and daydream, but could not commit himself to any type of steady work for any notable length of time. The Van Winkle children seemed to wander aimlessly throughout the village, much like their father and surely due to his negligence, which was also reflected in his home, which was in quite the state of disrepair. Van Winkle’s life was further complicated by the fact that his wife was the type who would pester him and make his everyday life somewhat difficult.

One day, in an effort to temporarily escape from the challenges of his life, Van Winkle went on a hunting trip in the woods, eventually coming upon some “odd looking personages”, who invited him to partake in a keg of whiskey. Falling asleep, Van Winkle awoke and returned home, but found that he had been asleep 20 years and was now an old man, ultimately being taken in by his daughter and settling back into a routine life of sorts.

Many of his friends were aged as was he, others had passed away, and of course life was not the same as it was when he first fell asleep. There is an implied meaning that can fairly be claimed from this story; in a way, the story can be seen as symbolic of several things. The sleep that Van Winkle fell into as a result of the drinking episode can in some ways be seen as a symbol of the time that can be lost, and precious life squandered when one wastes their days in the pursuit of intoxication and no meaningful labor.

Before they know it, some people are like Van Winkle, finding that decades have gone by and that everything has changed before they could even realize it. It is also fair to make the argument that Van Winkle’s hibernation is symbolic of the desire of many people, when faced with difficult circumstances, to escape from the daily grind of their lives and to re-emerge when things have changed satisfactorily and they can in fact be able to gain some more control over their lives.

For Van Winkle, the 20 years of absence allowed him to come back to a world where he was served instead of having to be a servant. This is a dream of many who are in trouble or have difficulties that they find too intense to handle. Conclusion Sometimes, literature is just as interesting for its implied meanings and messages as it is for what its pages contain. For Washington Irving, writing allowed him to step out of the ordinary world and indulge the reader in a bit of fantasy.

In “Rip Van Winkle”, there is fantasy in the actual story itself, but also in the implied meanings that the story contains. Ultimately, this is probably one of the most significant findings that can be taken away from this story- that things are not always what they seem and what cannot be seen is often the most fascinating of all.

Bibliography

Irving, Washington. Rip Van Winkle: A Legend of the Hudson and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Chicago, IL: W. B. Conkey Company, 1924.

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