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What Makes a Story American Literature? Essay

There is no rules or guidelines to classify certain stories as American Literature. So, what makes a story American Literature? “Rip Van Winkle,” by Washington Irving, is a profound short story and an example of American Literature. “Rip Van Winkle” is about a man who falls asleep for several years. He finally wakes up and he sees that the places around him have changed tremendously. When he returns to the village no one remembers him, except an old villager, who verifies his story. Washington Irving was born in 1783 and died in 1859.

He was the first American writer to achieve fame in Europe. His mentors included other great American writers such as, Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Irving had written essays, biographies on George Washington and Muhammad, and short stories. He also spoke out against the mistreatment of Native Americans by Europeans (F. D. Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). In writing “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving was the first belletrist, or a person who writes for pleasure rather than for practical use. Irving also introduced non-fiction as a genre (F. D.

Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). “Rip Van Winkle” is an eponymous character, meaning the main character is named the same as the title (F. D. Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). In discussion about “Rip Van Winkle”, major changes occurred from when he fell asleep to when he woke up, such as America had won independence from Great Britain, his daughter grew up and has her own children, and an economic shift from rural to urban (F. D. Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). Irving wrote, “The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous.

There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors—strange faces at the windows—every thing was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village, which he had left but the day before. ”(Irving. 26) “The appearance of Rip, with his long grizzled beard, his rusty fowling- piece, his uncouth dress. . . ” (Irving. 28).

This quote describes the appearance of Rip Van Winkle after numerous years of sleeping. “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving proves that true American Literature does exist. One example that makes “Rip Van Winkle” American Literature is the story takes place in New York, in the Catskills Mountains near the Hudson River (Irving. 18). Other works of literature we have read in class have mostly taken place in Europe. Irving also picked America winning independence from Great Britain to show change while Rip slept.

Independence from Great Britain symbolized America conquering itself and the strength America had as a whole (F. D. Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). After the Revolutionary War myths were created to fill in the past and to suppress it. The common American person found it easier to accept these myths then to challenge them. As long as they had the basic needs then they did not care about other things around them (F. D. Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). In “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving believes things change in order to have a purpose.

“Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door” (Irving. 31). Like many other Americans, Rip accepted the fact that the village and people around him had changed because things change over time. Irving created a similarity between Rip, as a person, and the newly formed America (F. D. Hunt, ACAS 125 lecture, January 28, 2008). Rip represented America because like Rip, America was ‘sleeping’ while under King George’s rule and America’s independence is Rip waking up from his sleep.

However, trying to prove or disprove a story or an author is an example of American literature depends on a person’s opinion about what American Literature is and what America means to them. I believe Irving was a great writer. He was able to capture my interest and I found him funny. “Oh, she too had died but a short time since; she broke a blood-vessel in a fit of passion at a New-England peddler. ” It shows that Irving was comical. His comedic character, to me, is what makes him and his stories American Literature.


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