4 of 5 stars to Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. In Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle,” Rip’s wife Dame constantly nags her husband because all he ever does is sleep, put off his chores, and play with his dog Woof. The other women in the village are tolerable to him only because Rip doesn’t have to listen to their hassling all day long. He isn’t married to any of them but Dame. Irving’s satire is a humorous attempt to display wives as barbaric slave-drivers who are better off being dead than being tyrannical women, who exist only to burden their husbands.
YIKES! It’s a good thing this was written over two centuries ago… or Irving would be rightfully slaughtered in today’s world. The next few paragraphs are considering when this was written, and not my personal opinion… just cutting an excerpt from a paper I wrote years ago on this story, reflecting on how men treated women in fiction during that time period.
Washington Irving’s story makes some women out to be horrible creatures who are always torturing their husbands. However, there are some women who are basically good-natured and acceptable creatures. In Irving’s short story, Rip Van Winkle is “a great favorite among all the good wives of the village” (Lauter 1296). These women, who are not made out to be the old hags, even go as far to blame Dame Van Winkle for all the fighting that goes on in the Van Winkle house. Irving tells his readers that men see their own wives as shrews who love to fight with their husbands. Other women are tolerable though. “The women of the village, too, used to employ him to run their errands, and to do such little odd jobs as their less obliging husbands would not do for them” (Lauter 1296). Rip would do any work that someone else asked him to do, but if it was his own work that his wife flogged him about all the time, he would shrug it off. Dame, his wife, was too shrill and bothersome to want to do work for and she showed no mercy on him.
Rip simply wants to be free to live his life in the way that suits him, not in the way that suits someone else. “If left to himself, [Rip] would have whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept dinning his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family” ( Lauter 1297). He doesn’t want to have a meddlesome and annoying wife around to tell him what to do all the time. Dame Van Winkle is such a barbaric woman that she has the ability to frighten almost anyone, including Rip’s dog, whose name, coincidentally, is Wolf. “The moment Wolf entered the house his crest fell, his tail dropped to the ground, or curled between his legs, he sneaked about with a gallows air, casting many a sidelong glances at Dame Van Winkle, and at the least flourish of a broomstick or ladle he would fly to the door with yelping precipitation” (Lauter 1297). Dame Van Winkle expects too much out of her husband and Rip is too busy in his own world. Dame Van Winkle is being used as a symbol for the many women in real life who were feverishly nagging wives and annoying slave-drivers.
Irving doesn’t say that all women are annoying slave-drivers though. He simply states that as wives, women are meddlesome and overbearing. When they are not married to them though, men, Rip in particular, find less problems with women.
When Rip returns and learns that his wife died during those twenty years when he fell asleep in the forest, Rip comments on how “he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny old Dame Van Winkle” (Lauter 1297). He is happy and free from the old nag now. The narrator also tells us that “whenever her name was mentioned, however, [Rip] shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes; which might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate, or joy at his deliverance” (Lauter 1297). Once Rip’s wife is out of the picture, he becomes a care-free happy man again. “Having nothing to do at home . . . he took his place once more on the bench at the inn-door . . .” (Lauter 1297). In fact, Rip lived with his daughter, a woman other than his wife, and was at his happiest. He no longer had to contend with Dame’s nasty attitude and arrogance.
Irving has shown that men are better off without wives since they are so rudely insolent.
Through “Rip Van Winkle,” Washington Irving is able to show how women in general were considered “tolerable creatures,” who can even make you laugh and take care of you. However, once you are married to them, it is a different story. Wives, specifically Dame Van Winkle, are constantly demanding things from their husbands and treating them poorly. Perhaps, Irving is commenting more on matrimony, but the basic view he shows is that women become overbearing heathens once they marry a man. Wives exist only to torture men and the men are better off without them according to Irving’s story.
My input today: I’m not sure how he got away with publishing this one… couldn’t it just have been a story about a men who fell asleep for a very long time, and when he woke up, life was different!? YIKES! I mean… “a wife being a nag” has been a theme persisting thru-out time, often used in a joking manner… but this was over-the-top! I wonder if this is where it all started…
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