I believe Washington Irving’s purpose in writing Rip Van Winkle was to teach his readers a lesson as well as entertain. Irving is telling his readers through this story that if you live an idle life, never accomplishing anything, and are always satisfied with the bare minimum life will pass you by.
Rip Van Winkle is a character who always has been, is, and always will be. There are millions of people around the world who take his nonchalant view of life, his uncaring, unmotivated attitude and accomplish absolutely nothing. Rip is an icon to the stagnant, the lazy, and the useless. He is the person who goes through life never fully living it and before he knows it, is old and dying wondering where has the time gone.
Rip was not a bad man as clearly illustrated in the text; he lived his life somewhat contently and simply. People liked him and he did not shy away from helping others. His only problem was his aversion to working for a living, and the problems this caused for him at home. The main character of the story is constantly getting yelled at by his wife and takes all the time he can to get away from her to enjoy himself. One day Rip walks off into the mountains to go hunting where he runs into a man hauling up a keg of beer. He encounters this man and being the good-natured guy that he is, helps him carry his drink to his friends. Eventually, he starts to drink with them and before he knows it, he is out cold. He wakes up not yet aware that twenty years have passed and originally thinks he has been robbed of his dog and gun. This part is significant because it tells how he believes he has been robbed, looking at it symbolically in context with the rest of the story he has been robbed of more than just his gun and dog but of his time and life. He then walks down the mountain and everything has changed. He does not recognize the people, all of his old hangouts don’t look like they’ve been inhabited in years and his house is deserted. After talking with a few people he finally figures out that twenty years have passed him by. Rip’s daughter takes him in, and he is able to live out the rest of his life idly in old age.
Using the time period of the revolutionary war was symbolic in this story. For starters in symbolized change, change the whole makeup of American as well as a revolutionary change in Rip Van Winkles life (he is now an old man). It also could have symbolized a new beginning for Rip in that he no longer had to deal with his nagging wife and could live the life he wanted for himself similar to the new beginning of The United States of America.
I was best able to contrast Rip Van Winkle with Charlie from Babylon Revisited. Although both characters started out in the beginning as being very similar, Charlie changed his life for the better, he made something of himself and gave up his foolish ways. Rip on the other hand just went back to being his same old self. Charlie learned from his mistakes Rip Van Winkle did not.
I agree with the author’s message that if you are always idle life will pass you by and you will be old and virtually by yourself before you know it. The most important things in Rip’s life should have been his family and provide for them. Instead, he thought of only himself and what made him happy. His wife’s incessant nagging was his own fault for falling short as husband and father. Rip Van Winkle was selfish in that regard, he cared nothing for his family and only in satisfying himself. I found it to be a great act of charity that his daughter took him in after twenty years; most children would probably be bitter after their father left for so long. Rip is an eternal character. As long as there are people, there will be those who are content doing nothing. Life will pass them by, they will oblivious to what’s going on around them and will rely on others to take care of them.