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Confusion And Personal Identity In Rip Van Winkle

1037 words - 4 pages

 
Rip Van Winkle tells the story of a man who, on a trek into the Kaatskill mountains, mysteriously sleeps away twenty years of his life during the Revolutionary War. When he returns home, he finds that things have dramatically changed; King George no longer has control over the colonies, and many of his friends have either died or left town. At this point, the story reaches its climax, where Van Winkle realizes that his life may be forever changed.

To this point, Rip Van Winkle has had only to deal with the change in his surroundings. Having no doubts about his personal character, his fears remain singular only briefly, for when the crowd points to a man whom they call Rip Van Winkle, he begins to question his being as well. "I'm not myself-I'm somebody else-that's me yonder-no-that's somebody else, got into my shoes..."

Frustration has set in by this point, as our hero Rip cannot explain the events that have happened to him. In one night, his world had drastically changed, and no logical explanation can be found. The larger issue at hand, though, is the identity crisis that Van Winkle is suffering. Upon a detailed analysis of this climactic section, two dominating themes are found: confusion and the issue of personal identity. There are constant references to these ideas throughout the selection.

That Van Winkle is confused seems obvious and is quite understandable, but this confusion extends beyond the bizarre sequence of events encountered. When Rip notices the person that the township refers to as Rip Van Winkle, it is as though he is looking into a mirror, for this person portrays a "precise counterpoint of himself." Although Rip visually sees this other person, his examination becomes a personal reflection.

Suddenly, his lazy lifestyle, as personified in the new Rip Van Winkle, is perceived negatively. In the telling of Rip's previous life, Irving does not hide Rip's laziness and unproductive nature, but the reader is constantly reminded of Rip's kind and gentle qualities. Never do we view his actions negatively, for his poor work habits are overshadowed by his character strength and other amusing qualities.

In this selection, however, no effort is made to disguise these traits. The man is "...apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged." No disclaimers. Rip Van Winkle notices these traits, and he is "...now completely confounded." His confusion has increased, but confounded also refers to shame-the shame he might feel about his past.

As the confusion increases, Rip begins to question his identity. When the man with the cocked hat asks who Rip was and what was his name, we are more concerned with Rip's identity as a human being than the answers to these simplistic questions, and so is Rip, for these questions become of greater importance when we consider how they concern Rip's inner self. He responds that "...I am not myself," and he enters a near panic as he describes his sad plight. His thoughts...

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