"Rip Van Winkle" can be read as an allegory of the American Revolutionary War. An allegory is a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation. In the case of "Rip Van Winkle," the setting of the story serves as a commentary on the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War. The main character falls into a drunken sleep and awakens 20 years later, after the war is over and the colonies have become the independent United States of America.
Discuss the character of Van Winkle (prior to falling asleep) as allegorically representing Americans prior to the Revolutionary War. Examine the several paragraphs in which Irving introduces the character of Rip Van Winkle. In what ways does Van Winkle typify the pre-Revolutionary American identity? Remember that the story is an allegory, and Van Winkle’s character is supposed to represent Americans at the time of the American Revolution who chose to be complacent. What details are given that support this characterization?
Discuss the role of the town and the town’s people (prior to Van Winkle falling asleep) in this allegory. Examine the several paragraphs in which Irving first describes the town and Van Winkle’s wife. In what ways do the people and establishments, the character of community, and the lifestyles represent pre-Revolutionary American thinking? Who is his wife supposed to represent? Give textual support.
Discuss the allegorical significance of the town 20 years after Van Winkle falls asleep. Examine the paragraphs of "Rip Van Winkle" that describes Rip's return to the town after he reawakens. Discuss the ways in which the town has changed: atmosphere, commerce, lifestyles, and personalities. What statement about the effects of the Revolutionary War and American independence is Irving making?
Compare the way in which Van Winkle's son, Rip, Jr., is characterized near the end of the story to the way in which Rip Sr. is initially characterized in the story. Give special attention to the way each is esteemed by other people in his community. Form an argument as to what accounts for the difference in the town's levels of respect. What role does Rip, Sr. assume in the new society that Rip, Jr. cannot?
Discuss the story as an example of American Romantic Literature. Common attitudes and tendencies of this genre include 1. A distrust of civilization 2. Nostalgia for the past 3. Concern for individual freedom 4. Love for the beauty of the natural landscape 5. Interest in the supernatural. Find lines from the story to support each attitude or tendency.
Discuss the character of Rip as an example of American Romantic hero. Romantic heroes generally are 1. Childlike 2. Innocent 3. Distrustful of women 4. Fond of nature. 5. In search of a higher truth. Find lines from the story to describe each character trait.