Rip Van Winkle wanders up into the hills one day to get away from his pestering wife and celebrates a wild party with some strangers. When he wakes up, he wanders back down to his village only to discover that everything has changed. His wife is dead, his children are grown up, his daughter has grown into a loving woman willing to take care of him and his lazy ways are now acceptable (Irving, 1819). He is also no longer the subject of a king but a free citizen of a new country basking in the glow of its newness. In Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” the wife represents the American mans sense that he is not free to do as he wishes, but is instead under the domineering cultural control of the American female.
In Irving’s story, Rip’s wife is represented to be a constant problem for him in that she refuses to allow him to live his life in a manner that seems right to him. In the story, Irving says, “his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family. Morning, noon and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence” (11). The harshness of Rip’s wife is emphasized by the reported unproductive nature of his farm and the sense that she continued to harass him about farming rather than encouraging him to find some other form of gainful employment that he might enjoy more, such as selling or bartering the toys he made for children (Irving, 1819).
Within this illustration of Dame Van Winkles character, it is clear to see the kind of cultural enforcer role assigned to women in this age. According to Nina Baym (1981), the typical American myth was structured around a very feminized natural environment waiting for the male to plunder and violate her while the human woman was the enforcer of social rules and norms, keeping men from accomplishing this goal. Baym says, "The myth narrates a