"Rip Van Winkle"
A yarn is something we are told but not expected to believe. He creates
a yarn by his way of introducing the story with a narrative
frame. The narrative frame works something like a picture frame,
to go around it. Most stories start with the story, but he puts it
in a frame telling how he came to find the story. He says he found the
story in a trunk passes down by men. The more remote a story is from
the original source, the less reliable it is. This story is similar to
the stories of the hook and the kidney. He makes his story remote from
something we can rely on.
Rip Van Winkle is the American icon of someone lazy, shiftless, and low
class. Americans sometimes don't love the lower class but have negative
portrayals of them, especially during the last couple of decades.
This story is sympathetic to the lower class. Irving creates a loveable
scoundrel - Huck Finn is a similar hero. Rip is a good ole' boy who
doesn't like to do much work. Or any at all. He responds to his nagging
wife by running away, and she responds to this by nagging more. Theirs
is a dysfunctional household. The story is not sympathetic to Dame Van
Winkle, but who would want a husband or father who did not provide? Generally
we don't respect this kind of man. There is an ironic tone; we know that
he is shiftless and sorry, but we still like the man.
He goes hunting and finds Dutch dwarves. The dwarves are an etiological
myth explaining the source of thunder. Mythology believes Zeus caused
thunder. To the Dutch, thunder was caused by a game of nine pins. Rip Van
Winkle gets drunk or ripped. When he wakes up 20 years have passed. Irving
does this to show what has happened to the nation over these 20 years.
It gives them the opportunity to explore the contrast of the cultural changes.
This is a popular technique also used in Austin Powers. While he was gone,
the nation changed entire methods of government from being under King George
to George Washington. He comes home on election day and they think he is
there to break up the election. When they ask if he is a federal or a democrat,
he replies that he was a supporter of the king. They thought he was a Tory
or a spy. Rip is not a Tory or spy but simply did not comprehend the change.
His wife died from an aneurysm while screaming at a peddler. She had not
changed any. Rip finds comfort in his wife's death. Comforted that
she is dead, that is. When he asks if anyone had heard of Rip Van Winkle,
they point to his son who is just like he was, shiftless and lazy. Rip
sees himself in his son and is confused about who he really is.
Rip's story of his account changes as he tells it. This is part of the
frame that makes the story not to be believed. This concluding frame draws
into question what happened. In early America, there were women called
grass widows. Grass widows were those
whose husbands left home without divorce when they got tired of their wife
and children. It was easier then to change your name and identity to get
away from the old things.