An Allegorical Reading of Rip Van Winkle
In Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” an allegorical reading can be seen. The genius of Irving shines through, in not only his representation in the story, but also in his ability to represent both sides of the hot political issues of the day. Because it was written during the revolutionary times, Irving had to cater to a mixed audience of Colonists and Tories. The reader’s political interest, whether British or Colonial, is mutually represented allegorically in “Rip Van Winkle,” depending on who is reading it. Irving uses Rip, Dame, and his setting to relate these allegorical images on both sides. Irving would achieve success in both England and America, in large part because his political satires had individual allegorical meanings.
In an English interpretation, one could see Rip Van Winkle as the mother country or England. Rip is “a kind neighbor, and an obedient hen-pecked husband .” (430) To an English citizen reading this story, it could easily represent the English monarchy. For years before the revolution, America had defied the King by refusing to pay taxes; support the militia that was protecting it from the French, Spanish, and Indians; and in many ways hindering progress in the colonies. England could easily have been seen as “hen-pecked” in the ways in which it handled the colonies. Many of the tax acts, such as the Stamp act, were ignored and monarchy was viewed as inept in dealing with the colonies. The Crown levied no penalties against the colonist when these acts were defied. The Crown just accepted not getting the money.
Rip is viewed in the town as a person who helped everyone with anything, except his own family- “…he was a simple good natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbour…He would never even refuse to assist a neighbour in the roughest toil…” (430). Irving takes great pains in describing how little Rip did on his own farm. Rip’s inability to take care of his own family, while being able to help everyone else, is conducive to the allegorical interpretation of England’s position in the world and within the country itself. “The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour…Rip was ready to attend any body’s business but his own; but as to doing the family duty, and keeping his farm in order, it was impossible” (430). This was much of the same sentiment during Revolutionary times. The Crown was negotiating on a global level, but could not control the rebellion within its own boundaries. The citizens in England were upset with supporting the colonists and the colonists didn’t feel they should be taxed. There was no middle ground and there was complete unrest within the Crown’s realm.
When England defeated the Spanish Armada and started establishing colonies in the New World, England was viewed as a world leader. However, this world leader was having trouble controlling its rogue...