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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersLiving the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican Life
Overview of Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Resource Menu: Predicaments of Early Republican Life
Text 1. Benjamin Franklin
Text 2. Venture Smith
Text 3. Washington Irving
» Reading Guide
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Text 4. Royall Tyler
Text 5. Benjamin Rush
Text 6. Noah Webster

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
3.  Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle, A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker," from The Sketch Book, 1819-1820
    Washington Irving

A quintessential tale of the period, it is often taught as an early example of American Romanticism, or as the first American short story, or as a revolutionary war commentary, or as a metaphor for the relationship between the colonies to the mother country. It is also useful to illustrate how different gender roles were being established at the beginning of our literature. However, for the purposes of your seminar, you might want to consider how the tale celebrates certain values of the time but also articulates distinct anxieties and worries. The new republic bristles with energy. It is "busy, bustling, disputatious," independent, and politically charged. But how will it accommodate those who, like Rip, do not share the republican temperament? Is there a place for someone who has "an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor," is essentially apolitical, and simply does not want to grow up? The answer seems to be yes. Doing nothing and yet in the end finding a revered place in village society, Rip represents the successful rejection of Franklinesque values and in so doing offers a critique of republican virtue. 12 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  In what way was "Rip Van Winkle" a cautionary tale for the new republic?
  ·  What is the story's attitude toward the sort of republican virtue represented by Franklin?
  ·  What does Dame Van Winkle represent?
  ·  What are we to make of the village women's attitude toward Rip?
  ·  Why is it important that Rip links the village to its Dutch past?
  ·  What does Rip eventually come to represent?
  ·  Is Rip an American archetype?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  What was the nature of the society that formed in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution?
  •  What did the citizens of the early republic hope for?
  •  What did they fear?
  •  How did they seek to balance freedom and order?

Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Predicaments | Religion | Politics | Expansion | Equality

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