Romanticism versus Enlightenment in “Rip Van Winkle”
A question of ascendancy is present within the story of “Rip Van Winkle:” Enlightenment or Romanticism? The Enlightenment is an optimistic belief that humanity can improve itself by applying logic and reason to all things. On the other hand, Romanticism is the reliance upon emotion and natural passions to provide valid and powerful means of knowing, embodying a reliable guide to ethics and living. In “Rip Van Winkle,” the superiority of Romanticism to the Enlightenment is portrayed by Irving through his use of natural inclination, individualism, and the allegorical characters of Rip Van Winkle and Dame Van Winkle.
Throughout the story, Irving portrays his Romantic ideals with his penchant for nature. In the following quote, “Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only alternative to escape from the labour of the farm and the clamour of his wife, was to take gun in hand, and stroll away into the woods” (984), this portrayal of Rip supports Irving’s affection for nature because Rip uses nature as an escape from the limited freedoms of his life. In this respect, Irving reveals the Romantic ideal of natural emotional outlets and rejects the Enlightenment ideal of structured, civilized life. Also, the aforementioned quote supports the supposition that Romanticism is a reaction to the Enlightenment lifestyle through Rip’s reaction to the labor of the farm and the clamor of his overbearing wife.
Equally important is Irving’s use of individualism to support the ideals of Romanticism through Rip’s role in the story. In the following quote, “Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, which ever can be got with the least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound” (983), this characterization of Rip supports Irving’s favor of individualism because Rip’s happiness...