Rip Van Winkle Literary Criticism

Instructor: Linda Davidson

Linda has taught elementary, middle and high school. She has a master's degree in English.

Have you ever wanted to escape from someone you didn't like? That's exactly what the character Rip Van Winkle does in the story that bears his name. In this lesson, we'll learn why Rip escapes and how the story has an even deeper literary meaning.

The Need for Freedom

'Rip Van Winkle' by Washington Irving takes place in 1700s New York during the time of the Revolutionary War, when America was freeing itself from the rule of England. The story talks a lot about what life is like without freedom, and the setting gives us clues through symbols to make a point about America and its need for freedom.

When an author uses symbols, he or she makes characters and things stand for something else to get across a bigger idea. The use of symbols in Rip Van Winkle makes it an allegory, or a story that has a deeper meaning because characters are symbols for something else.

In 'Rip Van Winkle,' the author describes the mountains where the story takes place as ''magical.'' By using this word, Irving sets the stage for some unbelievable events to come. It's the reader's hint to expect some fantasy.

The magical mountains

The Characters Are Symbols

The characters in the story are symbols of the Revolutionary War. Rip Van Winkle doesn't like to work, and his wife never lets him forget it. She nags and pesters him all day long to start working and stop being lazy. Have you ever been nagged? It makes you want to run away!

Rip tries to escape by spending time with friends in the village, only to be caught by his wife and ordered back home. Rip's wife represents England, and Rip stands for America, both symbols of the Revolutionary War conflict. The nagging, bothersome British were constantly telling the Americans what to do and like Rip, the Americans may not have wanted to work according to British rules.

Time for a Nap

Rip decides to go hunting far off in the mountains where his wife won't find him. Have you ever walked for a long time? It can be very tiring. Rip becomes exhausted from the hike and sits down in the forest, only to fall asleep. He is awoken by a strange group of people in old-fashioned clothes who offer him a magical drink, and this makes him sleep even more.

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