“Rip Van Winkle”, a short story written by Washington Irving, is known for being a tale that illustrates multiple aspects of life before and after the American Revolution. After spending twenty years in the forest asleep, Rip Van Wrinkle returns to his quaint village to find his home transformed into a bustling town. By the end of the story, he has become a local historian; telling the townspeople what the village was like in days before the revolution. The events of “Rip Van Winkle” occurred due to the actions of Rip Van Winkle’s wife: Dame Van Winkle. Dame Van Winkle can be viewed as the main antagonist in “Rip Van Winkle”, as well as a symbol of Great Britain before and after the American Revolution.
Little physical characteristics are known about Dame Van Wrinkle; what the reader’s know of her comes from the behavioral details given by the story’s omniscient narrator. It is stated in Robert A. Ferguson’s article, “Rip Van Winkle and the Generational Divide in American Culture”, that Dame Van Winkle’s actual name is never recognized (530). Dame Van Winkle’s character is first introduced when the narrator explains the life of Rip Van Winkle before he falls asleep for twenty years. Dame is described as Rip’s wife who is considered to be a woman who is overbearing, and is capable of acting harshly towards her husband. Dame is also labeled as a “curtain lecturer”. According to the story’s footnotes in the 8th edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, a curtain lecturer is a term for when a wife declines her husband’s need for sex after she has “closed the curtains” around her bed at night (Baym 472). Dame Van Winkle has no written quotes throughout the story; however, through the descriptions of the observant narrator, the reader can deduct that Dame’s actions correlate directly with the narrator’s initial depiction of her.
Dame Van Winkle’s attitude towards her husband is portrayed in a single paragraph in which she conducts the act of “henpecking”. Henpecking is the act of a wife harassing her husband by consistently nagging at him. As stated in the story, “Morning, noon, and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence” (Irving 473). Not only does Dame Van Winkle harass her husband, she also harasses Rip’s companion, Wolf. She believes Wolf is the reason why her husband leaves their home so often. It seems that Dame sees no positive qualities in her husband Rip; ironically, it is inferred that Rip and the townspeople do not see any positive qualities in Dame Van Winkle because she is the one to blame in Rip Van Winkle’s life (Irving 472). It is evident that both Dame Van Winkle and her husband are living unsatisfied lives.
While Dame belittles Rip on every detail in his life, a similar situation is occurring simultaneously between Great Britain and America. Before the revolutionary war, Great Britain tried to control many aspects of...