Thursday, March 3, 2011

Irving, "Rip Van Winkle"

--This is a famous story which even people who haven't read it know in general outline, but many people find the details of the story surprising or unusual. If this was your first reading, what did you find surprising or notable here?

--This story is, in part, a commentary on the transition from colony to nationhood in America. What is the attitude toward that transition?

--Compare the fondly nostalgic tone here to the spirit of the Enlightenment that we saw in our previous section's readings.


  1. There were several differences between the actual story and the story I heard. For one thing, I didn't know that he drank some gin before falling asleep. That part got edited out I guess. I also thought that he slept for 70 or 80 years as opposed to 20. In the version I first heard, Rip happened upon Hudson and his crew by accident, he wasn't called over by one of them. They were also giants in the version I remember as opposed to regular sized people.

    The most surprising part about reading the story was the back story. The story of Rip Van Winkle always starts with him in the woods. I had never heard of his general laziness or his shrew wife. Knowing about the shrew wife gives the story a whole new dimension. Before, it was just a children's tale about a guy who took a really long nap. With the wife angle, the story has a much more humorous feel to it, with Rip Van Winkle running away from his nag of a wife and getting really drunk. He gets so drunk that it takes him 20 years to sleep it off.

  2. This was my first reading of “Rip Van Winkle.” My main familiarity with the story was through “Wishbone” (a show I watched as a kid in which a talking dog pretended to be the main characters of classic books and stories). And I often get “Rip Van Winkle” and “Rumpelstiltskin” mixed up. So that being said, a lot of this story was new to me. The main thing I was surprised by was the view of women in the story. Dame Van Winkle is more or less portrayed as the bane of Rip’s existence. She is constantly nagging and getting on his case as he tries to lead his simple life. I guess I was expecting the story to read more like a fairy tale and less like a story about a lazy man escaping his nagging wife. And that really struck me as being odd. I also vaguely remember there being something about giants in the versions I heard.

  3. Although this was my first reading of it, I knew much of the story already and was not too surprised by it. One aspect of the story that did catch me off guard, however, was the inclusion and depiction of Dame Van Winkle. I was not only surprised by her presence in the story (I had never heard a version that included his wife) but I was also a little taken aback by her nagging and hostile attitude. To me, she seemed to be representing England's burdensome sovereignty over colonial America and I don't think it's any coincidence that her death is described alongside Van Winkle's happiness of learning about America's independence. I'm still not sure if she was supposed to be taken as a lighthearted caricature thrown in for comedic entertainment or if she was supposed to be taken seriously in a rather misogynistic attitude

  4. Mike Flachs

    The first major notable difference that I saw between my general knowledge from childhood and the actual text is the relationship between Rip and his wife, Dame. Washington Irving went to great length to stress the dysfunction of Rip’s marriage. Looking back, I never remember it being mentioned how nagging Rip’s wife was.
    Secondly, I do not remember Rip’s sleep being derived from drinking. Instead, I faintly remember only Rip lazily falling asleep and waking some years later. I am not really surprised I do not remember Rip’s sentiments for his wife or his drinking binge. In fact, its quite possible that those details were left out of the stories I heard as a child.

    One thing I do recall quite vividly is Rip’s less than honorable work habits. I also somewhat recall a supernatural force playing a role in Rip’s extended slumber but did not realize it until I read the text. The ending to the story was new to me also. Looking back, I couldn’t even remember a specific ending at all. Another major difference that I seemed to overlook as a child was the emphasis on the new American nation that is present in the text.

  5. I think that the story first and foremost appeals to nostalgia by revitalizing several old fairytale/folktale tropes from medieval and Renaissance Europe-the lazy husband and nagging wife, the mystical quality of the forest, the ephemeral, magical inhabitants of the forest, etc. A rationalist like Thomas Paine or the iconoclastic Puritans wouldn't have been caught have been caught dead dipping into old storytelling tropes like these. But I think the biggest call for a return to the good old days is that the people who cause Rip Van Winkle trouble upon his waking ("trouble" being a relative term-Rip gets off without much strife for someone who slept for 20 years) are people engaged in the political nature of the new American nation-the ones who accuse him of being a spy and the like. Also, the features of his aged town that seem to cause him the most strife are the signs that the town has gone through a lot of civic and economic growth, and is now more busied with the mundane tasks of the world rather than the idyllic sleepy farm town he remembers.

  6. We talked about this tale a little in my AP US history class. However, I don't remember hearing anything about Dame. So, when i read this I was surprised to read so much about her. Another thing I found notable was just the way this is written. Compared to what we've covered in class so far, this is more like a "story" and it was refreshing to read in that respect. It wasn't as dry as some of the other pieces have been.

  7. --This story is, in part, a commentary on the transition from colony to nationhood in America. What is the attitude toward that transition?

    Rip Van Winkle fell asleep before major rift between England and the colonies began (although you can't tell when he fell asleep, when he was at the Derrick Van Bummel would read the occasional newspaper they received, it didn't seem to insight them like a newspaper reporting the Boston Massacre would), and by the time he wakes up, the Revolutionary War is past and elections are taking place. And yet, with all that has changed, Rip Van Winkle doesn't seem to care. Not only does he resume a life of listlessness, but his son, who grew up in a time of political action and societal obligation, is also a deadbeat.

    It is difficult to get a read on the attitude towards the transition from Colony towards Nation, though, because the narrator reports telling us this story just as Van Winkle told the story ("It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related"). Because of this, it is actually unclear what the newspapers they read actually talked about; Van Winkle wasn't engaged enough in them to pay attention to them, he seemed to just be there to escape his wife. This is evidenced by the fact that his son is just as Rip Sr. had been before the war. It says that the "club" would talk about the newspapers for months (but Van Winkle is too uninterested to remember what the discussions were about, just that they were "worth any statesman's money to have heard").

    Because Van Winkle is so removed from the events of his time, it is difficult to tell what kind of tone this story takes towards the transition into Nationhood. Van Winkle doesn't seem to see any difference... but he also didn't notice he had a foot long beard until somebody pointed it out to him.

    Caleb Washburn

  8. Also, while I had very few preconceived notions about this story (I vaguely knew it was about a guy falling asleep), I disagree with many of the people talking about Dame Van Winkle being nagging or having a hostile attitude. Rip wasn't providing for the household, which was his job; she had every right to be angry with him. She had two children at home to try and take care of, and he would just wander around in the woods shooting squirrels.

    In this way, if Van Winkle's newfound "liberation" from her "tyranny" is similar to that of America's from England's, then Irving had a very dark view on America's prospects as a country and the founding father's "morals," which we now hold with such high acclaim.

  9. Rip Van Winkle is first confused by the hustle and bustle of the new America. Mercantilism took over and people's lives were suddenly busier than were they just providing for their community on a looser monetary system. Being a lazy slow kind of guy this was not appealing. He also is confused as a Tory, so he also is confronted by the xenophobic new Americans, as well he is confused about political affiliation having no knowledge of U.S. government. But once he is brought up to speed he realizes that he is no longer a subject of the English king, as well as his wife, he is happy to be a free man on both accounts. Beyond that he shows little emotion about the transition. To him it makes little difference except now he has new things to talk about. It was interesting rereading this in an American lit class keeping in mind the politcal aspect, rather than just the literary.

  10. This was my first time reading the actual story of Rip Van Winkle. I had heard the tale before as a child, and now that I have read the real version, I found it's a lot more informative. I could tell there were a few major differences between the story I had heard when I was younger compared to this, but I think all those differences are because people were trying to make the story more age-appropriate for me as a child. For example, I never knew that Rip got extremely drunk and that was the reason he slept for 20 years. Obviously this detail would be edited to tell a version of this story to a 7-year-old.
    Another difference I noted was that he slept for a lot less time than I had previously heard. I was under the impression he slept for nearly 100 years, but the real story says 20. This detail was pretty minor and didn't really affect the story overall.
    One pretty important difference which was the biggest surprise to me was that I noted in the real story was the added characteristics to Rip's wife. I had no idea that she was a nagging, nuisance of a wife. I think this is another one of those details they trim out to make a story more age-appropriate, because nobody wants to tell a kid about how Rip was annoyed by his wife and went hunting to escape her annoyances. When I read the real version, this added detail made a significant difference in the story because it explained why Rip went off to the mountains in the first place and it showed that he wasn't completely heartbroken when he realized his wife had died when he returned after 20 years, which is a pretty important thing to note.

  11. "...but there was one species of despotism under which he had long groaned, and that was—petticoat government. Happily that was at an end; he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle. Whenever her name was mentioned, however, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes; which might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate, or joy at his deliverance" (964).

    Oh, those women! Aren't they the worst? Don't you just with that you could fall asleep and wake up to find your wife dead? How lovely and freeing that would be!

    While I had never before read "Rip Van Winkle," it is one of those stories that nearly everyone is acquainted with and I had assumed that I knew it and it's main character fairly well. Sitting down with the text, however, I realized that Rip Van Winkle is actually a big bratty jerk. While Van Winkle's wife definitely had flaws of her own, his reaction to her death is so far removed from what I thought I would find. Growing up, "Rip Van Winkle" always seemed so morose: the tragedy of what happens to someone when life passes him or her by. Reading it now, van Winkle didn't regret the time lost, and appeared to quickly move past the deaths of his friends. And his wife's death, why that was just icing on the cake! I'm surprised at my surprise; I didn't know that "Rip Van Winkle" had made a big enough impression in my life for this sense of disillusionment.

    I prefer to remember Rip Van Winkle as an adorable jack russell terrier:

  12. I think my first experience with this story was from a Wishbone episode(the PBS children’s show featuring an adorable and well-read dog). So I recalled the story outline, but was delighted to find all kinds of historical tidbits in the text that Wishbone left out. I did not remember where or when the story toke place. I love that the character sleeps right through the Revolution and that the inn’s name changes from King George to George Washington--such a rich detail. And the setting seems like a very apt place for legends to arise.

    I also really liked the folksy language in the text. When the mysterious stranger calls Rip’s name he is “hallooing”. The folksy tone often made me laugh out loud, particularly in the descriptions of Dame Van Winkle. What a sassy lady. I didn't even think Rip had a family, none the less such an amusing one.

    Side Note: You too can be fondly nostalgic! You can watch the Wishbone episode here:

  13. After reading this and thinking about the idea of the transition of a new society into nationhood, I like to think of Dame Van Winkle as a metaphorical embodiment of a Revolutionary America, and Rip as the uninformed and uninvolved pre-revolution American. Dame Van Winkle's "nagging" is actually a call to arms, a reminder of Rips's lack of desire to pull his own weight and help to support his family (a.k.a. the soon-to-be nation). Rip, on the other hand, chooses to ignore his wife and take it easy. When he wakes he does not recognize the change in the new nation as a result of his inactivity in forming it. Rip is experiencing what many non-involved Americans would have felt after the Revolutionary War was over. Having not been involved in the process for whatever reason, and left out of the informational loop due to the period's lag in the spread of current news, there certainty must have been many American's who were somewhat ignorant to the process of change that new nation underwent to become free. Dame Van Winkle (the hard work and sacrifice of the American Revolution) is now passed, and Rip (the ignorant American) can simply sit back and enjoy the benefits without truly understanding the cost of his enjoyment.

  14. ^That Wishbone video made my night complete...but anyway...I feel like the attitude in this story is positive toward the transition from colonies to nationhood in America. In the beginning of the story it seems Rip has a decent life, nothing really to complain about he has shelter, food, and a shirt on his back. But he still isn't truly happy. He constantly has that "termagant" wife breathing down his neck at every move that he makes. After he returns to the village 20 years later and his wife is dead (and the Revolution has come and gone) he now feels like a free man that can do as he pleases. I don't see how that could point to anything but positivity toward nationhood.

  15. I vaguely remember this story from when i was little, mainly just that he slept for a really long time and woke up. I did not ever remember him having a mention of a wife. I was really shocked to see just how horrible she was depicted. The part about Rip Van Wrinkle being lazy and very unproductive does ring a bell. I was expecting more of a fairy tale aspect to the story like how it is depicted for children. The American revolution being included was completely new to me.

  16. My familiarity with Rip Van Winkle comes from a children's version i had when i was younger, and lot of the original story was omitted from the first one. I don't remember his penchant for being lazy and avoiding work, his wife's nagging was, and his drinking before falling asleep were left out.
    Rip's confusion and disorientation upon waking alludes to the American Revolution, and how one might feel after such a great upheaval. Like Rip, the Revolutionary readers of this story might have felt secure and content in their current situation, if bothered by the rule of British power (the wife?), and when the Revolution is over, they might've felt glad it happened, but disoriented nonetheless.

  17. --This is a famous story which even people who haven't read it know in general outline, but many people find the details of the story surprising or unusual. If this was your first reading, what did you find surprising or notable here?

    This was the first time I had actually ever heard of this story, so I was very amused. What I found most surprising about this story was that many of the people in the village believed his story about falling asleep in the woods for 20 years. I know if someone were to repeat that to me, I would be a little more skeptical. Something else that intrigued me was his relationship with his wife, and why he married her in the first place if he was so miserable with her. I wonder if his abensence combined with Dame’s nagging behavior is what made his son turn out the way he did.

    Emily Miller

  18. I actually was not familiar with the story before reading it. I think I missed out on a couple of childhood cautionary tales when I was growing up. To me, this just seemed like a regular fairy tale. I can see why the politics, his drinking and his general laziness might be left out, focusing only on his son's desire to be like him and the good he did for the community, but doubt much other than that was changed.

    I found it interesting that Rip's attitudes towards politics and the changing political climate he awakes to can be summed up by this line towards the end of the story: "the changes of states and empires made but little impression on him." I have a strange feeling that this was the attitude of many common people at the time. We hear about the politicians on either side and their passions, but we don't hear much about the people who actually went into the trenches so to speak.