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The American Character Essay

2153 words - 9 pages

Washington Irving expertly reflects American history in his piece of 1819 “Rip Van Winkle.” Unbeknownst to Rip Van Winkle, the colonies are now free of British rule as Irving writes, “Here a general shout burst from the bystanders—‘A Tory! a Tory! a spy! A refugee! hustle him! Away with him’” (Matthews, 2007, para. 36). Rip enters the village armed, ignorant of the fact that he presents the look of a loyalist. The question of being a refugee is preferable to accusations of being a Tory, as a colonist refugee would not claim British loyalty which Rip did openly saying “’…And a loyal subject of the king, God bless him’” (Matthews, 2007, para. 35). If Rip had not been justified by one who once knew him, there could have been an inescapable assault. Rip is exonerated from the accusation of being a spy and questions changes in the village he once knew so well. Irving says, “He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George…even this was singularly metamorphosed…and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON” (Matthews, 2007, para. 33). Rip becomes confused as he notes the changes in the sign where George Washington replaces King George III. The sign symbolizes and validates the colonists’ freedom from Britain where a monarchy replaces democracy. With the conclusion of the Revolutionary War comes the replacement of King George III’s rule with the presidency of George Washington. As the war comes to a victorious close with freedom to the American colonists Irving writes, “’Oh, she too died but a short time since…’ There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence” (Matthews, 2007, para. 54). Simply stated, Rip’s wife passed away, thereby gaining him his freedom. This parallels history in that a monarchy must be extinguished for the colonists to ignite the freedom that a democratic society provides. Irving’s keen writing exemplifies his historical insight in the tale “Rip Van Winkle.”

Strong puritan beliefs are discussed in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s piece of 1835 “Young Goodman Brown.” An important question rises that ignites more questions on the role of God versus the devil in how we live our lives, the choices we make, and our uncertain salvation. Do we look to God or succumb to the temptation of the devil? Hawthorne writes, “’What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow’” (Hawthorne, 2011, para. 9). His uncertain curiosity leads him down a wicked path of which the devil continuously pursues him and he struggles with his own conflicting thoughts, identity, and Faith. Hawthorne historically reflects the Puritans in their relentless struggle to become perfect in the eyes of God. Under the Puritan doctrine it’s common for individuals to live a life of uncertainty, never knowing whether God is pleased. This dilemma is characterized by their daring desire to please themselves and still feel spiritual fulfillment. Goodman Brown expresses his fears as well as his hopes when Hawthorne...

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