Rip Van Winkle – A Fairy TaleIn the short story “Rip Van Winkle” , Washington Irving tells a story of a man who sleeps through the revolution. This story demonstrates two ways of looking at Revlutionary history, one of myth and one of fact. The mythical representation wins out, through popularity, over the factual representation.
In the story, Rip Van Winkle wanders off to the mountains and runs across some small men who are rolling bowling balls and drinking. Rip witnesses all this and joins them in their drinking until he passes out. When he wakes up, everything has changed the people, the town, and himself. After he tells his story, he becomes very popular among the townspeople, whereas before he was seen as lazy.
The two characters that mainly represent the opposing sides are Rip and the man with the cocked hat. The man in the cocked hat represents the factual representation. Upon Rip’s entrance into the town, the man asks him very direct question and expects very direct answers. If someone were to ask the man where he had been for the past twenty years he probably would would have told the story of the revolution and specific battles. He is not interested in tales, only the facts. From his description, “the man with the cocked hat,” cocked can also mean leadership. The man was a leader, or at least an authority at the time Rip returned. Rip on the other hand, tells a tale that is reminiscent of a fairy tale. He talks of little men and drinking. He uses symbols to represent the story of the revolution.
The community perfers the fairy tale version over fact. This is evident through Rip’s gain in popularity and the commn knowledge of his story. Irving writes, “and not a man, woman, or child in the neighbourhood, but knew it by heart” while “the self-important man in the cocked hat…screwed down the corners of his mouth, and shook his head – upon which there was a general shaking of the head throughout the assemblage.” This demonstrates that the community wants the revolution to look a certain way; they want it to be fun and symbolic, so Rip’s version fits better.
The townspeople in the story may prefer a fairy tale but this can be problematic. The symbols in Rip’s story become so far removed from the actual occurances that it is hard to tell what some of the symbols represent.