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The Demon In Dame

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 860
  • Category: Mythology

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Dame Van Winkle is cast as the ultimate antagonist in the famed classic, Rip Van Winkle.  Readers do not, on a tangible level, witness the seemingly endless and horrific abuse suffered by Rip.  The guile of Dame Van Winkle, however, is referenced repeatedly throughout the story.  Thus, readers are left to wonder: What is it that Dame does that is so awful?

Dame Van Winkle acts as allegorical social commentary: if a woman is the sole cause of all of a man’s distress, then the man is not responsible for the irresponsible actions he commits in his life.  If, then, the man seeks an enjoyable, stress-free life, the objective is to remove the woman from his life.

Direct correlation is made between Rip Van Winkle’s discontent and Dame Van Winkle’s constant nagging. The author adds more credibility with Rip’s supernatural slumber where he learns of his wife’s death.  The sensation of relief creates bliss for Rip.

Irving also used his story as a form of social commentary.  Irving hoped to characterize that fact that men need to stop blaming women as the catalyst that leads to misery and in their own life.    To make the point, Dame Van Winkle is a fairly easy target to a woman’s supposed scorn.  Aside from what we are told from the viewpoint of Rip Van Winkle, we never actually experience this horrid monstrosity for ourselves. This, in effect, curbs the reader from making their own judgments and opinions.  The author does this to allow the reader to feel what it’s like for Dame not being given a chance to express herself.

This entire tale is one-sided and entirely biased, which leads to scrutiny. If readers are to believe in the indescribable wickedness of Dame Van Winkle, then we need to see examples of it so that we can make our own fair judgments. The entire premise that Dame is the strife in Rip’s life does not offer the reader a chance to see the other side. It makes a character one-dimensional if we do not see some semblance of good in them.   If a character is not offered the chance to defend the reasons behind their actions, then the story loses the impact that is offered as a story reaches a climax.  Plus, even if she were offered the chance to defend herself, her negative portrayal would become more apparent.

Dame Van Winkle, according to Rip’s one-sided portrayal of Dame, is single-handedly responsible for all of the stress in his life. There are constant references to her “termagant” (450) nature, her “continually dinning” (451), how he was a “henpecked husband” (451), and how “Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as years of matrimony rolled on” (451).

Pity plays into this when his wife is described as such a relentless beast. Yet we also know that Rip was a lazy man: “The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour” (451). And it was not simply a matter of Rip just being lazy; he was so lazy that their farmland dwindled under his “supervision,” and what little of it that was left was the “worst conditioned farm in the neighborhood”

A wife, who is most likely starving as a result of forgoing her own food to provide for her children, would surely be exasperated by this behavior of her husband’s, and would most certainly confront him. Rip goes out to gallivant with the townsfolk and their children, day after day, while the Dame remains at home caring for children that are probably hungry, dirty, possibly even sick from malnourishment. None of this, according to Rip, is a problem.  This, alone, should further denounce Rip’s credibility and Dame Van Winkle would be entirely justified in saying that she is not ruining his life: he’s ruining hers.

Rip finds his escape from Dame Van Winkle in the form of forest-dwelling ghosts, who put him to sleep for 20 years. Upon awaking, Rip had some serious adjustments to make.  Dame has died, “There was a drop of comfort” (458). After the passage of 20 years, Rip was officially an old man, which meant that he could continue in his idle ways without judgment.  “Whenever her name was mentioned, however, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes; which might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate, or joy at his deliverance” (459).

In conclusion, the story of “Rip Van Winkle” acts in many ways as an allegory for the relationships between men and women during this time, and more so of men’s negative perception of women. Dame Van Winkle here is both a villain and a victim—a villain in her husband’s eyes, but a victim of her husband’s own desperation to blame the consequences of his laziness on someone else. She is an easy scapegoat in the story, but the astute reader won’t buy it.


Rip Van Winkle  http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides3/Winkle.html


Sketchbook  http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/i/irving/washington/i72s/r_winkle.html


Rip Van Winkle  http://www.radessays.com/viewpaper.php?nats=MTAxMToyOjE,0,0,0,0&request=83356


Washington Irving  http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/RipVan.shtml

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