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“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving Essay

“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving is a fiction story of a character whose destiny was affected by marvellous circumstances. In comparison to Benjamin’s Franklin Autobiography and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self reliance, there are some things that are similar, but overall Rip Van Winkle is completely different plot; in other words, it’s main character is unique. I found several evidences proving that. First, the book itself is written in an inimitable style. In the very beginning of this work with the usage of real names, dates and places the author makes the reader believe the veracity of the tale. It also describes the everyday life of American Colonists, making the part of the book being a resource of historical information. But the events taking place there are doubtful and generally cannot pretend to be true at all.The story istelf is full of irony and sarcasm, and it also reveals a bunch of flows that are common to the society regardless to the time period.

For example, the main character of the book, Rip Van Winkle, has a drawback – “insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour”(page 457). He would rather put an effort in doing something useless than put the same effort in doing things helpful for himself; he doesn’t mind doing hard labor for someone else, but he doesn’t care about his own farm. Moreover, he is sure that there is no use to work there. Another topic that the author touches is the power of woman over the man in the family. Dame Van Winkle is a shrew and terrifies the life of Rip, who, on the contrary,has a very flexible character. Irving defines him as a “simple good natured man, … a kind neighbour, and an obidient, henpecked husband”. The figure that Washington Irving creates is also unique. According to Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, a man should pursue the goal to be perfect by developing and mastering his Virtues, though the achievement of perfection seems for him slightly possible.

On contrary, Rip Van Winkle never tries to develop good qualities of his mind and soul. During the story, he doesn’t even think a lot about such a philosophical topic. His mind is more involved in thinking about the everyday’s problems. In addition, Rip even contradicts to some of the virtues. He gets drunk with the liquor that he even haven’t been allowed to drink, and falls asleep. This action is the main reason of everything that happens next in this book. So, he breaks the Franklin’s rule about the Temperance: “Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation”(page 284). Also, wasting time doing┬ánothing and being not able to work on his farm, he runs counter to Industry Virtue:”Lose no time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.” (page 284). And overall, all his behavior contradicts the Virtue list of Franklin.

In comparison to Emerson figure, however, there are more similarities. Emerson point of view allows everybody to have some flows, as long as the person’s mind is not spoiled. And, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the person’s mind is degraded when he or she doesn’t rely on himself. “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”(page 534). In his opinion, trusting yourself means having your own opinion, point of view, never imitating someone, and being a non-conformist, for “imitation is suicide”(page 533). But the main character of Washington Irving’s work doesn’t meet these requirements.

It is obvious that he is really not self-reliant at all; his opinion and his all live is greatly swayed by other people, especially by his wife Dame Van Winkle. Rip’s temper doesn’t allow him to make his own decisions. So, we can conclude that only people with the strong will can be self reliant, and we can’t consider Rip as such one. Finally, it becomes clear that Rip Van Winkle is not either Franklinan or an Emersonian type of person, but the unique creation of Washington Irving, the American original figure. But there is one thing that all of the books irrefutably share in common-their characters make everyone think about their own values and traits. And eventually it helps everybody to become better.


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