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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Gothic Undercurrents

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•  Using the Video
•  Authors
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•  Activities
- Overview Questions
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Activities: Author Activities

Washington Irving - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Describe Rip Van Winkle as husband and as citizen. As you articulate his relationship with his wife, consider whether you think Irving means us to feel more sympathy for Rip or for Dame Van Winkle.

  2. Comprehension: How are we supposed to feel about Ichabod Crane? To what extent should we feel sympathy for him? On which of his characteristics or habits do you base your judgment?

  3. Context: Note that Rip sleeps through the Revolutionary War; that is, he sleeps through America's transition from colony to nation. Why does it matter that Rip sleeps through these particular eighteen years? Describe his village before and after his fateful nap: which do you think Irving prefers? What is different and what is the same in the village before and after Rip's sleep?

  4. Context: Like "Rip Van Winkle," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" suggests a distinction between Dutch colony and American nation (in the figures of Brom and Ichabod, respectively). What is Irving saying about the difference between the two communities?

  5. Exploration: In 1820, Sydney Smith asked, "In the four corners of the globe, who reads an American book?" In The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1820), Irving responds by formulating America--and Americans--as a site of interest and inspiration. As you read "Rip Van Winkle," consider how Irving formulates national identity, particularly in relation to Europe. How do race, culture, and historical context figure into this formulation?

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