.. cause whoever wins her also wins the treasures of her father.
Crane recognized this fact as well as Brom Van Brunt, the story’s symbol of the American people. Crane wished to take Katrina, as well as their children and possessions, and travel to new territory, away from Sleepy Hollow, where she was born and raised, much as England had taken America’s resources away from her people in order to replenish depleted funds. Van Brunt recognized Crane’s self-interest and therefore fought to keep the treasure where it rightfully belonged. Ichabod’s destructive tendencies were shown through Irving’s description of him riding to the party. “He rode with short stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers’; he carried his whip perpendicularly in his hand, like a sceptre, and as the horse jogged on, the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of wings,” (Irving, 959). The grasshopper image is humorous, but grasshoppers are renowned for their ability to destroy the wealth of the land.
This particular insect had his eyes set on the land of Van Tassel. The imagery of the whip resembling a sceptre brings to mind the monarchy, which the pedagogue represents. The borrowed horse, upon which he rode also produces thoughts of England. Gunpowder, the “broken-down plough horse,” had one good eye which “had the gleam of a genuine devil in it,” (Irving, 959). This worthless, mean-spirited beast provided a stark contrast to the lusty young steed that carried Brom Bones. Daredevil easily overtook gunpowder as Brom chased Ichabod, pretending to be the headless horseman.
The old way of doing things (Gunpowder) simply would not suffice in the New World (the world of Daredevil), and therefore the culinary symbol of America (the pumpkin) came crashing onto Ichabod’s head. “Rip Van Winkle” has a strong European influence as well. Irving tied European explorers into “Rip Van Winkle” showing that although America had formed its own identity, an identity that could not be separated from those who made it possible. The story introduced Rip as the descendant of “The Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant,” (Irving, 938). But after Rip awoke, there is no mention of the Europeans, or the wife who is symbolic of England. Irving painted a colorful picture of Rip’s home life by saying, “Those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home.
Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation, and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long suffering,” (Irving, 938). Perhaps Rip would have been more productive at home without his wife breathing down his neck, just as America would have been more satisfying to Britain, had it not been held beneath the English thumb. The liquor of the little men pushed Rip into a twenty-year stupor, just as the propaganda of men such as Samuel Adams forced Americans into the mental snooze that necessarily accompanies war. Just as Rip awoke to view the trickery of his short companions, the Americans awoke to realize that no government is perfect. Otherwise there would be no men arguing over politics.
These busy people about the once quiet town make a statement about the new democracy. Although they had gained a greater opportunity for self-advancement, they had, perhaps, lost a bit of the happiness that they enjoyed through idleness. Rip’s confusion seems to say something about the American identity crisis at the time. He questioned if he was really himself because his son and namesake had grown to fill his lazy shoes.
“Rip .. Beheld a precise counterpart of himself, as he went up the mountain: apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged. The poor fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man,” (Irving, 945). Fortunately, Rip reveled in boredom. He was too old to work, and so he sat around to talk politics.
Although he was pleased with the lack of oppression, he had no one to relate to. The Americans were similarly working to find their place in the world without Mother England watching over them. They had succeeded in accomplishing their goals, and had to ask themselves what they were supposed to do next. Several of the physical changes of the town hold political significance as well.
“Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on top that looked like a red night cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes – all this was strange and incomprehensible. He recognised on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George .. was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was stuck in the hand instead of a sceptre, ..
and underneath was painted in large characters GENERAL WASHINGTON,” (Irving, 944). Cutting down the old tree represents an “out with the old in with the new” attitude, that the Americans must have felt after claiming their liberty. The tree was replaced with a symbol of the new way of life – the flag with a liberty cap. The sign makes a powerful statement all its own. Government is government no matter how you paint it. They had traded one George for another, even if they did not want to admit it.
Although Irving’s descriptions of the physical realm have political undertones, they also achieve his previously stated purpose of giving attention to the national scenery. His vivid descriptions of the Catskills give the reader a dreaminess that could be accomplished by no other means besides actually going there. He painted the landscape in such a way that it would stick in the readers’ minds and help them to realize the magnificent opportunities presented daily in a land of seemingly endless natural resources. Although he dismissed the myth of the headless horseman as a hoax put forth by Brom Bones, he created a legend that lived far into the future. The story of the little men at ninepins also presents a legend of the thunderous mountains.
“Nothing interrupted the stillness of the scene, but the noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder,” (942). These myths gave the youthful America a sense of belonging in a world of well-established nations. These two stories took the American literary tradition from its infancy into adolescence. They served as a foundation for later writers, and put the American landscape into words.
The basic breakdown of the two stories is as follows: anyone can make it in America. The dreamers may barely scrape by, but brute force takes the cake. Bibliography Works Cited Bowden, Mary W., Washington Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
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