Part I: "Rip Van Winkle" is making a statement about the Revolution. What is it Washington Irving is trying to convey to the reader through his story? Then consider the characters of Rip and Dame Van Winkle. Discuss their traits in terms of them being important to the message of the story.
Rip Van Winkle, a descendent of the original Dutch settlers going back to the days of Peter Stuyvesant, literally slept through the American Revolution and could not comprehend the changes that had occurred over the preceding twenty years. When he arrived back in the village after his twenty-year nap, he no longer knew the people since most of his old friends were dead and gone. His favorite haunt, the George III had literally been replaced by a new structure, and where the king’s picture had once had the place of honor there was now a portrait of George Washington. Rip had unwittingly arrived on Election Day and the men were discussing ideas and vents that he had never heard of before such as “the rights of citizens—elections—members of congress—liberty—Bunker’s Hill” (Irving 204). When the voters asked him whether he was a Federalist or a Democrat he did not even understand the question, given that no such political parties had existed before the American Revolution.
He could only tell them that he was a loyal subject of the king, for which they denounced him as a Tory, a traitor and a spy, at least until his daughter finally identified him. Rip completely missed the Revolution because he was simply not a very political man, and in fact had hardly concerned himself with politics and government in his life. Nor did he have the type of character that would have made him a good soldier, but was basically good natured, easygoing and popular with the children in the village. Had matters been left in his hands there never would have been a revolution at all. Yet he was still glad to have escaped from “the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle”, who had burst a blood vessel years before after getting in an argument with a New England peddler (Irving 205). She had been very harsh and shrewish toward him, and her oppression became worse over the years, so that he always had a desire to escape from her. She would very likely have been a Tory during the Revolution had she survived, given her cruel, authoritarian personality, but now rip and the whole village were free of her forever.
Part II: James Fenimore Cooper challenges the reader to consider who really owns the land and its natural resources. What evidence is in there of natural law versus human law? Of individual freedoms versus the ideal of equal opportunities protected by the institutions of a justly ordered society? Express these juxtapositions using lines from the reading as support. And then please add your opinion of ownership and conservation, law, and freedoms.
James Fenimore Cooper, whose father was the founder of Cooperstown, New York and the model for the Judge in The Pioneers, was a firm believer in the progress of white, Christian civilization. He understood that westward expansion would mean the end of the Native Americans and also of rugged frontiersman like Natty Bumpo. Cooper’s vision of progress meant that the U.S. would control all of North America and the ancient forests would be replaced with farms, roads, schools, churches and industry. Forty years after victory in the American Revolution, the territory and population of New York had grown ten times compared to what they had been as a colony, and he praised the government of the new republic and its “mild lawswhere everyone feels a direct interest in the prosperity of the commonwealth” (Cooper 224). Natty prefers to follow natural law in that he travels and hunts where he pleases, giving little thought to government, statutory law or private property.
He lives like the Native Americans although always conscious of his racial distinction from them, and does not “love to give up my lawful dues in a free country” (Cooper 227). Yet law and civilization have now come to this land, symbolized by the Judge who in fact owns the new settlement. He also owns a slave named Aggy, and acknowledges that he lacks any voting or citizenship rights in the new republic. Natty has killed a deer on the Judges land, and even though he has been granted permission to hunt there, still grumbles that he never “heard of a law that a man shouldn’t kill a deer as he pleased” (Cooper 230). From his point of view, this civilization is really run by rich and powerful men like the Judge and is starting to look too much like the old countries of Europe rather than the free frontier that he always knew. For this reason, Natty will keep moving West ahead of the line of settlement, progress and civilization.
Week Eight: Reason and Revolution Part III/The Romantic, the Real and the American Indian.