Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “Rip Van Winkle” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Rip Van Winkle” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Question of Identity in Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle was described as a happy fool, one whom doubted his own identity when he awoke from his long sleep. We already know that Rip was a passive man, but what else is important about his identity? He seems to be a very genuine and caring person, one who is always willing to help out those who are in need. That being said, does his personality play a role in his being chosen as the remnant to the pre-Revolutionary days? Perhaps, Rip began the story as a good man who was relaxed enough to see where life leads him. He is thrust into a new world, full of development and advancement, as one of the few people left who are willing to let things just happen. Is this a good or bad thing? This is a question to integrate into this guided character analysis of “Rip Van Winkle”
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Use of Description in Rip Van Winkle
Throughout the story Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving relies heavily on the use of description in regards to both nature and characters. There are many different scenes in which nature is described in great detail, and most of the characters have their features described carefully. In which ways is this reliance on nature important? What does it say about Rip Van Winkle and his attributes regarding the earthly world? What about the description of characters? What is it that Irving is saying about Rip’s tendency to detail things? Is there a connection between how he views the world and how he interacts with it?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Passivity of Rip Van Winkle
The story of Rip Van Winkle is best known for Rip’s extraordinarily long nap. Even before he falls asleep, his actions portray a man who is unconcerned with his life. He helps his neighbors and minds his own business until the day that he goes up into the mountains. What does this say about Rip’s passivity as a character? Are there any actions that he takes that actively influence his life, or is he the kind of person who just lets things happen to him? What is Irving saying here about the ramifications of allowing oneself to let life simply pass by?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Revolution and Tradition in Rip Van Winkle
The backdrop of “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving is very political. The American Revolution occurs while Rip is asleep, and when he awakes and comes back down the mountain, the world in which he lived has forever changed. The buildings have changed, the architecture is different and his home is abandoned. His wife is gone, as are most of the people he knew during his life. However, there are still some elements throughout the story that remain the same, such as the elderly couple Rip meets. What does this say about tradition and revolution? Does it devalue revolution?
This list of important quotations from “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Rip Van Winkle” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Rip VanWinkle” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Washington Irving they are referring to.
“When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but some times, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapours about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory." (449)
“On nearer approach, he was still more surprised at the singularity of the stranger’s appearance. He was a short square built old fellow, with thick bushy hair, and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion—a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist—several pairs of breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows of buttons down the sides and bunches at the knees." (453)
“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." (452)
“Certain it is, that he was a great favourite among all the good wives of the village, who, as usual with the amiable sex, took his part in all family squabbles, and never failed, whenever they talked those matters over in their evening gossippings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle." (450)
“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." (451)
“If left to himself, he would have whistled life away, in perfect contentment, but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family." (451)
“He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the little village inn—but it too was gone. A large rickety wooden building stood in its place, with great gaping windows, some fo them broken and mended with old hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, “The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle." (456)
“Rip looked and 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." (457)
“Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can do nothing with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times ‘before the war’." (459)
Source: Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter 6 ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2003