Rip Van Winkle: Analysis of Major Themes

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  • 0:04 What Is a Theme?
  • 0:23 Freedom
  • 1:14 Progress
  • 1:46 Change
  • 2:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Abby Federico

Abby has taught elementary special education and has her master's degree in this area.

This lesson will teach you about the three major themes in the story 'Rip Van Winkle' by Washington Irving. The major themes you will learn about are freedom, progress, and change.

What Is a Theme?

In this lesson, we'll talk about the major themes in the short story ''Rip Van Winkle.'' A theme is the an idea or message the author is explores or talks about in a piece of writing. Washington Irving's ''Rip Van Winkle'' has three major themes that this lesson will teach you more about: they are freedom, progress, and change.


One theme in ''Rip Van Winkle'' is freedom. Freedom is the ability to do, say, and think the way you want to, without anyone else telling you how to do these things. Freedom can be seen in a couple of different ways in the story.

First, Rip gains freedom from his wife when he wakes up and learns that she has died. Before he enters the mountains and takes his 20-year nap, Rip's wife is constantly bothering him about working. Rip also gets freedom from the work that his wife wanted him to do. Now that he's older and his wife is gone, Rip no longer has the responsibilities he used to have.

Another way the theme of freedom is shown in this story is the freedom that the American people gain from England after the Revolutionary War. Before Rip's nap, the Americans are colonists under England's rule. When Rip wakes up, he learns that the people fought a war against England and won the right to be their own country with their own government.


Another theme in ''Rip Van Winkle'' is progress. Progress means moving forward. When Rip wakes up from his nap, he sees the progress of his town and people, especially his children who are now grown. He does not recognize a lot of things, because so many things are different, such as larger buildings and more people.

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