Some of the prominent features of America’s historical development can be seen through the works of authors such as Washington Irving. For example, in Rip Van Winkle, Irving shows a resemblance to the past in the story’s main character. The story is set in a “village of great antiquity” founded by colonists, with some of the original houses still remaining (Hennessy, n.d., p. 86). The main character, Rip Van Winkle, is described to be loved in the village as he is always ready to help people (Hennessy, n.d.).
However, he is not as eager to help his own “termagant” wife and his family (Hennessy, n.d., p. 87). Rip Van Winkle has a rather lazy personality characterized by “idleness” and “carelessness.” (Hennessy, n.d., p. 88). As he tries to avoid his household duties, he continuously hides from his wife in the village and eventually walks away into the woods (Hennessy, n.d., p. 88). This walk, however, will be a changing point in Rip Van Winkle’s life.
The changes in Rip’s character after the walk to the woods resemble some changes in American history. As he is in the Woods, Rip Van Winkle encounters a group of men playing at nine-pins with whom he later drinks some unknown beverage and falls asleep (Hennessy, n.d.).
When Rip wakes up, he cannot find the men and hurries back home, feeling “stiff in the joints” (Hennessy, n.d., p. 92). Entering the village, Rip does not recognize anyone but notices that everyone is dressed differently and looks at him with surprise, not recognizing him either (Hennessy, n.d.). He gradually realizes that instead of a night in the woods, he has been gone for twenty years and was now not a subject of King George, but a “free citizen of the United States” (Hennessy, n.d., p. 96). Rip would later prefer to be closer to the rising generation, as he is told about the revolutionary war and the changes in the world (Hennessy, n.d.). The differences in Rip Van Winkle’s life and in the life of the village itself show Irving’s attempt to connect America to things other than a British past.
Hennessy, D. (Ed.). (n.d.). Classics of American Literature: Volume One.