Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, is the story of Rip Van Winkle, a seemingly lazy man, prone to habitual drunkenness who wanders into the mountains to escape the tyranny of his nagging wife Dame Van Winkle. During his alleged hunting trip, he meets with a mystical band of creatures “dressed in a quaint, outlandish fashion” ( (Irving p 476). Upon the encounter, he is offered a flagon of beverage of mysterious nature, which he consumes most eagerly and then falls into an alcoholic induced slumber. Rip awakens to find himself in a strange and confusing new world, which is both familiar and unfamiliar to him. He returns to his tiny village to find that new faces have replaced the old familiar ones. The house he once lived in has fallen into disrepair and his loved ones are nowhere to be found. Even the inn where he spent many an evening is no longer the same. Where there was once a portrait of King George, a new portrait of another George, this one named Washington, hangs in its place. The old familiar British flag has been replaced by a strange new flag with an “assemblage of stars and stripes” (Irving p 478). In what seems like at first like a fable, Rip Van Winkle, is actually an allegory of the American Revolution. Irving uses creative symbolism throughout the story to portray America before and after the Revolutionary War. Rip is representative of the American people, Dame Van Winkle shows qualities of King George and British rule and the townspeople represent the change in the American people.
The character of Rip portrayed the image that most British people had of Americans. Rip “has allowed his farm to fall under rack and ruin, and he does little to provide for a large and growing family” (Ferguson p 529-530). He is portrayed as a lazy drunkard who would rather do work for others than for his own family. He and his children are described as wearing dirty and tattered clothing which may have been used to represent how the British felt about the informality and social structure of the American society as a whole.
Sarah Wyman, in “Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle: A Dangerous Critique of a New Nation”, states:
Rip, then, represents the new republic herself, waking up groggily to a world utterly reformed in terms of politics, yet still struggling with the problems of freedom, self-rule, work, and autonomy. Rip would be what Donald Pease calls a cultural ghost who establishes a sense of continuity with the pre-Revolutionary past.
Wyman is comparing the drowsy, groggy Rip to the new America that has just gained its freedom and independence from Britain and still unsure of what it must do as a nation in order to succeed (Wyman p 216).
Irving may have also been making a statement regarding the rise of alcoholism in the United States during this time period. In his article “Rip Van Winkle and the Generational Divide in American Culture”, Robert Ferguson states that alcohol usage in the U.S. “reaches its highest point during the first third...