1. The Origin of Rip Van Winkle

2. Gothic Elements in Rip Van Winkle

3. E-texts


The Origin of Rip Van Winkle

 Rip Van Winkle is the most popular story in Washington Irvings  Sketch Book. A pompous writer who wrote of the picturesque scenery of a village on the Hudson river or of the splendor of the mountains, would have ornamented his story with extravagant word-painting, and such an elaboration would have destroyed its simplicity. The legend as old as the hills and valleys in which it is laid, and appears in one of the weird tales of the Harz Mountains 'Karl the Shepherd'. In this version of the story the hero wanders into the woods in search of a stray lamb. After climbing up the rugged rocks that lie at the base of the hills, he finds himself surrounded by spirits of the mountains. As they hover around him, he falls into a deep sleep, from which he doesnt awaken for a hundred years. The story is also told the Chinese and Japanese languages, and in each of these the shepherd sleeps for a century.

In these original stories the central figure is placed in a still more desolate attitude than Irvings hero, for Rip when he returns is recognized by others who knew him in the past; but where the character sleeps one hundred years, he returns to a strange scene, where not one vestige of the olden time remains; the village is changed beyond recognition; he wanders about in a bewildered state, unknowing and unknown, as though he had awakened in another world.

There is another version of where this story originated from and that is from the work ofEDiogenes Laertius 'Epimenides' (Epimenides was sent by his father into the field to look for a sheep, turned out of the road at mid-day and lay down in a certain cave and fell asleep, and slept there fifty-seven years; and after that, when awake, he went on looking for the sheep, thinking that he had been taking a short nap).


Gothic Elements in Rip Van Winkle

Taking into account the traditional Gothic conventions Rip Van Winkle can easily be classified as a work of the Gothic Literary Movement. There are several traditions presented in the story, such as the peculiar setting, the presence of the ineffectual hero, the influence of the supernatural and the use of  a number of symbols.  Lets take a closer look at these aspects:

     -  The setting

The descried events take place in a village near the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains. The author shows the sensitivity of the landscape through great stylistic and technical work and evinces the true character of nature, not yet touched by man, in no way docile. In the description of the mountains Irving uses words which have mystical elements. Therefore, this is a true Gothic setting and can be referred to the 'Untamed Nature' category of the Gothic Setting classification.

    - The Ineffectual Hero

Rip Van Winkle in a way a reflection of how a large part of the world looks at Americans: likeable enough, but essentially immature, self-centered, careless, and what is most important, dangerously-innocent. He seems to be an overgrown child, incapable of understanding the world of adults, even that of his wife. He prefers nature rather than society, as society implies responsibilities and may be called the fictional American prototype.

    - The Supernatural

Lets for a moment consider the plot: Rip van Winkle meets a group of dwarfs playing ninepipes in the mountains. He helps a dwarf and is rewarded with a draught of liquor. He falls into an enchanted sleep and awakens some 20 years later. Every short sentence of this synopsis tells us about at least one supernatural thing - starting with the dwarfs and summing up with the fact that the man slept through 20 years after drinking some liquor-potion.

    - The Use of Symbols

I will provide an example: upon awaking the first thing that Rip saw was an Eagle. The significance of this detail is rather weighty for the Eagle is the America's symbol and it represents the change of America and freedom. But in this particular context it represented something completely different - the freedom of the hero from his wife and all of his social responsibilities and worries. In other words it reflects the rejection of society which means that there is room for nature and that magic exists there, on the frontier, in the forest.


Rip Van Winkle: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2048

Epimenides: http://classicpersuasion.org/pw/diogenes/dlepimenides.htm

About Diogenes Laertius: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diogenes_Laertius



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