A Selfless Hero

Discussion in 'Essays' started by Maegan O'Neill, Jan 10, 2012.

  1. Maegan O'Neill

    Maegan O'Neill
    New Member
    Jan 10, 2012
    Strong. Courageous. Determined. These are probably some of the qualities that people come up with when they think of a hero. Usually one thinks that a hero is someone who saves the day. That’s what would make an intriguing story, right? Wrong. Although that depiction of a hero can make for an exciting allegory, in romanticism, the ideal hero is portrayed in a very different way. According to Robert Probst, “These [romantic heroic qualities] can be found in the guise of dozens of pop culture heroes today.” The story, “Rip Van Winkle” is an example of this. Because of Rip’s youthful qualities, pure purpose, sense of honor, uneasiness with women, love of nature and quest for some higher truth, “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving is a strong portrayal of the American Romantic hero.

    One way that Rip Van Winkle expresses qualities of a romantic hero is through his youthfulness. The way Rip acts and the people he chooses to be with make his youthfulness pretty apparent. An example of this is on page 156, “The children of the village too would shout with joy whenever he approached.” Obviously the kids wouldn’t be excited to see him if he was like any other adult, so the fact that they were shows not only his youthful qualities but also the children's appreciation for him. Another way that Rip shows his innocence is when it says, “If left to himself, he would have whistled life away in perfect contentment” (Irving 156). By not being worried and impatient, but rather carefree and happy, you see a glimpse of Rip’s innocent demeanor that isn’t really shown through the other characters in the story. Therefore, Rip displays his heroic qualities through the way that he interacts with others in a very child-like manner.

    A similar way that Rip Van Winkle totally grasps the essence of the romantic hero is through his good intentions. Rip was always willing to help others and never expected anything in return. As it states, “He assisted at their sports, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles, and told them long stories of ghosts, witches, and Indians” (Irving 156). Seeing that he’s constantly helping the children in the village, it is pretty evident that he does not do things only to get something in return because, honestly, what would he expect to get from children? Another example of Rip’s pure purpose is when Rip is traipsing through the woods and comes upon a man in need of some assistance, “Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance Rip complied with his usual alacrity, and mutually relieving each other they clambered up a narrow gully.”(158-159). So, since Rip was very trusting and only wanted to help, he willingly did so by carrying the man’s keg to the party that he was attending, only to fall into a deep sleep for the next twenty years. Obviously, Rip is a very trusting man with good intentions, which is another very important trait that makes up a romantic hero.

    Another romantic heroism that Rip expresses is a sense of honor. Practically every single person in Rip’s village, held him in a very high regard. They respected him and really appreciated everything he did for the community. “I have observed that he was a simple good natured man; he was moreover a kind neighbor, and an obedient, henpecked husband” (Irving 155). Rip’s sense of honor was definitely based on his personal beliefs rather than what society or his family might have expected from him. This is shown when the story says, “Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, it was impossible” (156). Clearly, Rip always put others before himself which is a heroic quality, illustrated many times throughout the story.

    In addition, the uncomfortableness with women that is shown through Rips behavior contributes to the description of a romantic hero. Rip and his wife could not have been illustrated more differently. She was very strong willed and wanted Rip to do everything around the house but Rip was more submissive and wanted to please everyone except his wife. On page 156 of the story is says, “But his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family.” “Rip had but one way of replying to all lectures of the kind, and that, by frequent use, had grown into a habit. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, but said nothing” (156). These two statements are perfect examples of Mr. and Mrs. Winkles relationship. So, the many unpleasant interactions between Rip and his wife, would definitely not put Rip into the category of a ‘ladies man’ which is yet again another quality of a romantic hero.

    More than anything, Rip’s love for nature was the biggest clue in seeing how he was a romantic hero. Whenever he was feeling uneasy (usually with his wife), nature was the first thing he would turn to. “And his only alternative to escape from the labor of the farm and the clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods” (Irving 157). He loved being outside, whether it was just helping around the neighborhood or literally being in the woods, contemplating life. “He would sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long and heavy as a Tartar’s lance, and fish all day without a murmur, even though he should not be encouraged by a single nibble” (156.) Even though he loved doing outside activities, obviously he was encouraged more by his serene surroundings than “a single nibble.” Ultimately, Rip’s love for nature was a huge contributor to his romantic heroism.

    Finally, Rip displays his romantic heroic attributes through his quest for some higher truth. He enjoyed being with people and discussing topics that would enrich him rather than indulge him. “For a long while he used to console himself when driven from home, by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages...” (Irving 157.) So aside from using nature to relieve his mind from his marital issues, he also utilized this club where they would occasionally discuss topics that Rip Van Winkle loved, “But it would have been worth any statesman’s money to have heard the profound discussions which sometimes took place, when by chance an old newspaper fell into their hands, from some passing traveler. How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled out by Derrick Van Bummel, and how sagely they would deliberate upon public events some months after they had taken place.” Rip’s quest for some higher truth is shown through his fascination for learning new things about life, people, and politics which makes him a romantic hero.

    To conclude, Rip Van Winkle is a perfect depiction of the American romantic hero. His youthful qualities are repeatedly shown through his choice of companionship. By innocently trusting people, he displays a pure purpose. His sense of honor comes from his willingness to help anyone out at any time. Rip’s wife’s unwelcoming qualities illustrate him as being extremely uneasy with women. He spends most of his time outside, enjoying the fresh air. And finally, his quest for some higher truth was shown in the topics discussed with his friends. The character of Rip Van Winkle was just an ordinary man who wanted nothing more than to put others before himself, and that is one of the most important life lessons that I think everyone can learn from.
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