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Tone in Rip Van Winkle

Irving employs contrasting tones throughout “Rip Van Winkle,” partially in support of the different authorial identities he adopts. Geoffrey Crayon is academic in his approach, contextualizing the work of historian Diedrich Knickerbocker in a sardonic tone. Knickerbocker’s language, recording the story itself, ranges more widely from vivid visual descriptions of the Catskills to more casual colloquialisms describing village life. The overall effect sets a humorous story conversationally against a highly literary backdrop, combining some of the hallmarks of the oral tradition (out of which Rip’s story is purported to derive) with the weight of the mythological tradition Irving wants to construct for the United States.

Tone Examples in Rip Van Winkle:

Rip Van Winkle

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"gallows air..."   (Rip Van Winkle)

The gallows were a form of execution originating in Europe in which the condemned were hanged from a suspended wooden post. As the the gallows were a place marked by death, the usage of the word gives Wolf a solemn appearance of someone anticipating his end. The scene emphasizes Dame Van Winkle’s dictatorship within the household and gives a reason for Rip and Wolf’s constant outings.

"grave roysterers..."   (Rip Van Winkle)

The noun “roysterers” refers to someone who is reveling or partying. In contrast, the adjective “grave” indicates a more serious atmosphere, literally meaning “serious or solemn” and having connotational connections with death. This oxymoronic description of the scene estranges Rip’s night of drinking on the mountain and gives it an air of the unnatural.

"“Poor Wolf,” he would say, “thy mistress leads thee a dog’s life of it;..."   (Rip Van Winkle)

The idiom “a dog’s life” refers to a life of misery and hardship. Using this colloquial phrase (without acknowledging the pun contained) strengthens the folkloric tone of “Rip Van Winkle.” It creates a contrast with the heightened language used to describe Rip’s despair, revealing the absurdity of that despair’s cause.

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