Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle” is a commentary on the way in which the behaviors of parents often pass down to their children. This short story shows how a man has a strong effect on the influences his children see in their day-to-day life. Rip Van Winkle is the type of person who will leave his own responsibilities forgotten and go about his business with townsfolk. His children are poorly taken care of and his wife nags him constantly. We will talk about how his children take after his behavior once he goes on his twenty-year sleep and how much of an impact his influences have on his children. Irving creates a wonderful image of how Rip’s life impacted his children and how one can either grow and change from their fathers “mistakes” or one can follow in his footsteps. This story is reminiscent of an article I read once, which proposed the following theory: if a drunk man raises two sons, one will grow up and be an alcoholic like his father because that is what he was shown and taught, while the other one will grow up and be successful and sober because he watched his father and knew he wanted to make the change.
Rip does not take responsibilities very seriously, he tries not to worry about his home life or the wellbeing of his family. It is apparent that he is well-liked by the townsfolk because he puts their needs before his. “Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible” (10). One could argue that Rip was very easy going and calm, but this was his biggest fault. “He would rather starve on the penny, than work for a pound” (10). He had an opposite view on how a caregiver should act; he thought other people’s lives to be more important than his own. This is both selfish and selfless.
This is why Rip is such a controversial character, there are many arguments that could be made about his personality, but we can all agree he does not take life as seriously as he should, and his family pays greatly for his uncaring demeanor. “His wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family” (10). The story portrays his wife to be overbearing and cruel to Rip, and it is written to make Rip look like he is an innocent bystander that does not deserve the ridicule. But looking deeper into the reading, we can see that his wife has to work extra hard to make up for the work Rip is not doing, which is a very one-sided relationship. The symbolism of his neglect is shown when he grows old; he wakes up one day as an old man with his family grown without him, because they never really had him in the first place. Time just slipped by as he was not there for them.
When Rip Van Winkle wakes from his twenty-year-sleep and returns to the village, he finds both of his children as fully grown adults. As he’s brought to his daughter, Judith’s, house, where he’ll be living from now on, he reflects on the fate of his children. “Rip’s daughter took him home to live with her; she had a snug, well-furnished house, and a stout, cheery farmer for a husband” (23). Judith ended up becoming the total opposite of her father. She lived in a nice house, contrary to the house Rip and Dame Van Winkle raised them in, which was described as “sadly time-worn and weather-beaten” (8). The decrepit state of her childhood home at the fault of her father was her motivation for ensuring that her young family was able to live in a better and happier home than the one she was raised in.
On the contrary, Rip’s son inherited not just his name but his habits as well. As a child, he greatly admired his father, and stated his desire to be like him. “His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody. His son Rip, an urchin begotten in his own likeness, promised to inherit the habits, with the old clothes of his father” (10). The difference between Judith and Rip Jr. was that they each saw their father’s negative traits and took them in different ways. Rip never quite grew out of the phase of wanting to be just like your parents, as many children eventually do, and instead of seeing his father’s faults grew up to be his exact portrait. “As to Rip’s son and heir, who was the ditto of himself, seen leaning against the tree, he was employed to work on the farm; but evinced an hereditary disposition to attend to any thing else but his business” (23). Children are extremely impressionable, which is why oftentimes they state their desire to become like their parents. Kids are often referred to as “sponges” for information, making it so important that adults are aware of what they say around them. Where many children will grow up and recognize their parents’ faults, as I’m sure you and I both do, Rip Jr. did not.
Judith did the opposite of her brother: she clearly did not enjoy her childhood, otherwise she would have copied the parenting style of her mother and father. She saw her parents in a different light than her brother did. She chose to end the “cycle” of laziness and became neither like her father nor her mother, instead being her own idea of what a good parent is.
This short story is a good lesson to show how one can learn, adapt, and grow from their parental authority, and how they can better themselves from their past. Rip may have lost out on 20 years of his life, but it just shows how time is such an important aspect of a family. If you constantly put other people’s needs in front of your family’s, your family will grow and develop around you, just forgetting you all together. If you put your family first and make them a priority, you will live a better life. While this story is make believe, I go back to the article I read. If that father would have put his children first and showed his kids what is right and how to be successful, then the alcoholic son likely would’ve been like his successful brother. This story is a good building block on the importance of family life and the theme of how fast time goes by if you blink.
Irving, Washington. Rip Van Winkle, Pressbooks. OpenEAL.