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3 Short Story “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving, 1783–1859, first published 1819

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American Identity inRip Van Winkle andThe Pioneers

Creation of American identity can be viewed from various aspects. It is a story that begins with the particular life of Indian tribes then continues with the first settlers and the customs they brought to development of different societies, fight for human rights, development of democratic society and equal rights for all. Interesting aspects are given to us by the author James Cooper in his novel The Pioneers and by Washington Irving in his novel Rip Van Winkle.

The first novel gives us the insight to the life of the first settlers of American ground and the other thrills us with a fantastic story of Rip Van Winkle’s sleep for one night but waking after twenty years had passed. Detailed analysis of these two novels gives us some important facts about American identity.

On the one hand, Cooper’s novel The Pioneersfocuses on the evolution of the wilderness into a civilized European-American community. It starts with the narration of Judge Marmaduke Temple, one of the first settlers of American ground.While answering to his daughter’s questions about the former life in the hills of Otsego he speaks of the first settlement of that rough territory: “If I have encountered pain, famine, and disease in accomplishing the settlement of this rough territory, I have not the misery of failure to add to the grievances“.1It was a time of great famine with no roads, no mills, and no grain, nothing but hungry mouths that had to be fed.

Marmaduke was the one who brought cargoes of wheat in boats. He tells his daughter Elizabeth that these troubles they had were not so long ago and that she can’t imagine how difficult it was to survive and create something out of nothing. Mountains were at first pretty hostile with intact nature, pure wilderness that needed to be tamed and its soil used for farming and growing crops.

Here we can see the first shapes of settlers’ lives and the difficulties they were faced with. Later on Judge Temple mentions his first encounter with Natty Bumppo, a white American hunter known by the name Leather-Stockings who lives in woods, is very friendly with Indians and who shows great objection to settlers because they destroy the woods and natural balance of things.Natty has a vision of civilized life coexisting with nature.

Ideally, he wants to sustain the unique role that this vast unexplored wilderness contributes to the complexity of America.His character presents a certain opponent to people who don’t understand nature’s importance for human beings and who recklessly exploit its benefits and don’t care if they harm its balance. Natty understands that nature returns what we invest in it.

If we treat it well we can live a prosperous life but if we destroy it we have to handle the consequences. The battle between nature and civilization is constant where civilization usually arrogantly destroys the nature’s true beauty. The difference between these two opinions is shown during the slaughter of pigeons. Namely, settlers try to protect their crops by killing pigeons that fly over .....[read full text]

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However, Dame Von Winkle forced him out of the Inn as well. His laziness leads him into the woods where he finds a nice place to rest from the lectures of his wife Dame Von Winkle. He had no intention of escaping his home for good; his plan was only to escape for a few hours with his dog Wolf as he did many times before.

While he was in the forest he heard someone called out his name and saw a Dutch person with whom he strolled away to the amphitheatre and saw strangely dressed men playing pins representing Holland culture in America. They offered him a Holland beverage and he drank until he got totally drunk and fell into a deep sleep. “One taste provoked another; and he reiterated his visits to the flagon so often that at length his senses were overpowered, his eyes swam in his head, his head gradually declined, and he fell into a deep sleep.”5On waking, he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first seen the old man of the glen.

He rubbed his eyes—it was a bright sunny morning.”6 Rip has no idea how he found himself at the same place he saw that strange man but he thought that he doesn’t remember because he drank too much. When he got up he saw that his dog Wolf was missing and in his possession was a rusty old gun instead of clean, well-oiled fowling-piece. He thought that it is all just someone’s practical joke for he could not understand what had happened.

He also finds the path to the ravine closed which is symbolic because it represents a closed chapter of his life because he can’t find a path to his past life. When he returned to the village things became even stranger. He notices that village no longer looks the samewith new houses and names, people are dressed in a different fashion; he doesn’t recognise anyone and he used to think that he knew everyone.

The Vedder’s inn doesn’t exist anymore. Instead of the inn, there is a new sign “The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle.”, with a flag that showed a new figure George Washington instead of His Majesty of King George.

In this part of the story the author describes all the changes people experienced while Rip was asleep. The very character of people was now changed. They were now more busy and perhaps more arrogant, streets were bustling with people they are discussing politics with a disputative tone. They were mentioning things that poor Rip didn’t understand such as: “rights of citizens—elections—members of Congress—liberty—Bunker’s hill—heroes of seventy-six…”7 They even asked if he were a Democrat or a Federal which confused him even more.

They were mentioning “war—Congress—Stony Point;—he had no courage to ask after any more friends, but cried out in despair, “Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?”8 He was losing touch with himself; he was so confused that he didn’t know if he was real. Was it possible that everything was so changed in one day? Finally his youngest daughter recognizes him and he tells his bizarre story to new residents .....

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Short Story “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving, 1783–1859, first published 1819




1 The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper, An Electronic Classics Series Publication, Copyright © 2001 – 2014, Chapter XX1, page 209

2The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper, An Electronic Classics Series Publication, Copyright © 2001 – 2014, Chapter XXII, page 224


3The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper, An Electronic Classics Series Publication, Copyright © 2001 – 2014, Chapter XXII, page 222


4Short Story “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving, 1783–1859, first published 1819, page 10

5Short Story “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving, 1783–1859, first published 1819, page 15

6Short Story “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving, 1783–1859, first published 1819, page 16

7Short Story “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving, 1783–1859, firs.....

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