Irving’s American Progeny Irving’s American Progeny Washington Irving had the unique opportunity of helping a new nation forge its own identity. America, fresh out of the revolution, looked for an author to take charge and create something that seemed to be missing from the newly born nation. He took this responsibility seriously and made a mythology that founded an American literary tradition.
He took bits and pieces from the Old World and incorporated them into the New in such a manner that what he wrote appeared original, and yet tied into a tradition that was centuries old. He did this in a manner that astonished many Europeans who believed an American could never produce literature with such a strong English foundation.Although Irving relied heavily on European influence, he drew distinct lines between the American and the European and his plot lines illustrate the struggle between the United States and England.
This amazing period in the nation’s history provided an excellent backdrop for Irving’s work. “‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (is) .. a celebration of the bounty of the United States,” (Bowden, 72).
This bounty fueled the fire of social change that was burning in the U.S.at the time. “If we ever had a period during which social progress was not retarded then it was exactly the period Rip slept through. In that generation we were transformed from a group of loosely bound and often provincial colonies into a cocky and independent republic with a new kind of government and – as the story itself makes clear enough – a whole new and new-fashioned spirit,” (Young, 466). Irving took full advantage of the new scene around him, and immortalized himself by demonstrating the importance of what he saw. “‘When I first wrote the Legend of Rip Van Winkle,” so Irving remembered it in 1843, “my thoughts had been for some time turned towards giving a color of romance and tradition to interesting points of our national scenery which is so generally deficient in our country,'” (Wagenknecht, 174). Irving used his characters as depictions of American ideals and emotions in order to show the drastic change that had recently occurred.
Sleeping through the American Revolution forced Rip Van Winkle to cope with the amazing changes that had taken place while he was asleep. “Rip’s country has changed its name. On the hotel sign, George III has given way to George Washington. Rip is no longer even Rip Van Winkle; his own son now answers to that designation,” (Hedges, 140). “From Rip’s point of view, the village he left represented private turmoil and public tranquility. At the story’s end, Rip enjoys private tranquility in a village given over to public turmoil.
It is almost as if the one is the price that Rip has to pay for the other,” (Roth, 158-159). Rip’s world had undergone unpredictable changes, but he quickly got back into the swing of his old easygoing life swapping stories outside of the hotel. Irving also demonstrated the volatility of the times by his definition of history. “Irving’s introduction of Ichabod Crane defines a particular problem of the early American writer.
“In this by-place of nature,” he writes, “there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name Ichabod Crane.” The archaic substantive wight serves to emphasize the incongruity of the introduction; only in the America of the time could a remote period of history be defined as thirty years,” (Martin, 336-337). Irving took this peculiarity and used it to his advantage in a humorous way. He allowed Americans to laugh at the newness of their government while helping them realize the exceptionality of the time period they had just experienced.He also uses humor in creating his American mythology, while scoffing at those who believe in such supernatural occurrences. Springer gives validity to the imaginative elements of “The Legend”.
“What Irving does is show us the value of imagination in bringing wonder and enjoyment into our logic bound lives,” (483). Martin disagrees with this notion. Crane “loses all chance for the double prize of Katrina and the wealth of the Van Tassel farm when, terrified by his excessive imagination, he is literally run out of the region by Brom Bones impersonating the Headless Horseman. Brom Bones – the scoffer at superstition, who boasts that he has ridden a winning race against the Headless Horseman – triumphs and marries Katrina and is the victor of the tale,” (337).
Therefore, the true winner in the story, the true American (discussed later) wins by playing on the superstitions of his opponent.”The telling effect of “Sleepy Hollow,” (and) “Rip Van Winkle,” ..
arises from the fact that the legendary is so firmly interwoven with earthy realism,” (Snell, 383). The entire concept would fail if these two aspects were not so delicately worked together. Irving relied on older mythology as a source for his work. “Rip Van Winkle,” for instance, uses the age-old story of a character falling asleep for long periods of time and then reawakening. “The sleep-motive in “Rip Van Winkle” has roots which run very deep in world literature. There is the classical story about Epimenides, who retired into a cave to escape the heat of the day when he should have been watching his flock, and slept there for fifty-seven years,” (Wagenknecht, “The Work” 363).
This phenomenon serves as a way of showing that although American culture was fairly new, it had its roots in the ancient lore of the Europeans. At the same time, Ichabod Crane’s obsession with Cotton Mather served to demonstrate that Americans had formed their own witch tales, even in the short time spent in the New World. “But Ichabod reasserts the dominance of evil over American self-reliance: he quotes Mather on witches, and describes the ghosts he has seen himself,” (Hoffman, 351). Although the puritan belief in witches traveled the Atlantic with the settlers, Americans had taken this belief and formed a very unique and embarrassing American story/history shortly after their arrival. With this in mind, he went on to separate American folklore from European by using images that were purely American. Washington Irving used America’s European connection as a source of history, while highlighting differences in order to create an authentic American identity.
He praised the landscape and the bounty of the nearly virgin earth, which England lacked. Brom Van Brunt chose the pumpkin, a purely American fruit, as a substitute for his head, which he threw at Ichabod Crane to drive him out of Sleepy Hollow. The pumpkin symbolizes America’s separation from Europe, because it enabled the pilgrims to remain on this continent as demonstrated through the annual Thanksgiving festival. Crane represents England in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” thereby giving credence to the pumpkin theory.
He incorporated corporal punishment into his curriculum at the school where he taught.”Truth to say, he was a conscientious man, that ever bore in mind the golden maxim, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” – Ichabod Crane’s scholars certainly were not spoiled,” (Irving, 951). Although he abused his pupils, he was just kind enough to prevent losing the sustenance he received from their parents. “Indeed, it behooved him to keep on good terms with his pupils.
The revenue arising from his school was small, and would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder, and though lank, had the dilating powers of an Anaconda; but to help out his maintenance, he .. boarded and lodged at the houses of the farmers, whose children he instructed,” (Irving, 951).Similarly, the English abused their American subjects until they were driven out by the brute force for which this country is so well known. Ichabod also resembled England in his perception of Katrina Van Tassel.
“As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burthened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash,” (Irving, 955). Crane witnessed the American bounty and wished to tap into the unlimited resources. He did not love her for who she was on the inside, but rather, what she could do for him. Katrina represents America be …