Irving explores the theme of imagination in his story Rip Van Winkle. The author’s interest in ancient times depicts his power of imagination and the consequent impact on the readers. The readers are forced to get into the protagonist’s shoes, explore the past with him in an entirely imaginative stance. In addition to exploration of medieval times, the narrator personifies the wild creating an imaginative aura on the part of the reader.
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Rip, the main character talks to the Kaatskill Mountains giving them human abilities. He tells the mountains that when the atmosphere is calm, they are dressed “in blue and purple” (38). Before falling asleep, the narrator talks about what Rip saw. In a short description, Rip saw the lordly Hudson “moving on its silent and majestic course,” the reader follows the description of what appears like a dream; the description is more of imaginable than real (43).
The character of Rip and what transpires in his life depicts the theme of imagination. Rip is described as polite, generous, kind and obedient. He is described as straightforward and good natured, henpecked by his wife, but liked by his neighbors (39). Although he is described as the “favorite among the townsfolk,” his appears as an emotionally disturbed person, possibly derived from his home predicaments.
His wife is described as a nagging person; for this reason Rip has given up with most of domestic activities because he believed that everything was going to be destroyed (39).His life is based on imaginations; he spends a lot of time day dreaming. He falls asleep, which was entirely imaginative, only to wake up after twenty years when everything has changed (53).
The theme of imagination has also been explored in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving’s imaginations and his point of view dominate his narration. As the narrator wanders through the town of the Sleepy Hollow, he is told about the Headless Horseman. He interrupts the story with his imaginations as he narrates the side story of Ichabod Crane (333). As the narration continues and Katrina is wooed by Crane, Irving interrupts and expresses his imagination about the challenging and admirable nature of women (342).
The story appeals to imagination of the audience as the physical look of the Ichabod Crane. It is stated that the last name, Crane, matched with his looks. He is also described negatively as a poor singer and a rumormonger. The description of the Headless Horseman is meant to cause fear, although it is very imaginative.
The imagined shadows and shapes at nightfall are described as frightening to lonely people. The competition between Crane and Bones captures the reader’s imagination. Bones is described as strong and a complete opposite of Crane.
The war and ghost tales told by men after the dance are totally imaginative. The encounter between the Horseman and Bones (351) and the encounter between the Horseman and Crane (355) are imaginations, arguably meant to show their personalities. After Crane disappears, the townsfolk are unable to find his body and therefore believe that he was taken away by spirits or supernatural means; this is Irving’s way of depicting the theme of imagination (358).
The theme of imagination is effectively portrayed by Ichabod Crane, the protagonist in the story. Crane has moved to Sleepy Hollow from his hometown, Connecticut, to embark on a teaching career. His description creates a sense of imagination; he is tall, excessively lank with long legs and long arms.
The narrator creates a sense of humor when he states that his hands dangle a long distance out of their sleeves. His entire body frame is said to be loosely hung together and his feet might be substituted for shovels. His head is described as comparatively small, flat at the top with exceedingly huge ears.
His eyes are said to be green in color and glassy coupled with a long nose. A sense of humor is created when it is stated that his head was like a weather-cock on his thin neck to detect the wind’s direction. The writer uses metaphorical comparisons and humor to give a description of his character and appearance. The reader is left with a lot of imagination and this creates more suspense as the story unfolds.
Crane is said to be superstitious; he has a strong inclination to mythical ideas, legends and ghostly tales. His character and inclinations are based on total imagination since myths can only be imagined, legends are passed from one generation to another and ghosts are invisible and therefore, only imagined.
His decisions in life are affected by superstitions, and ultimately shape his character and fate. Although Crane is skinny, he is described as greedy with a voracious appetite. Crane’s plans are mostly based on imagination and day dreaming. He is very opportunistic; he thrives on befriending and dining at the homes of his students. At some instance, he befriends and eventually proposes to Katrina, a rich woman from a wealthy Van Tassel family. His intentions are to eventually marry Katrina so that he can inherit wealth from her family.
Crane’s powerful sense of imagination causes his downfall. His obsession with legends, ghosts and myths makes him believe in unreal things. His imaginations lead him into believing that he was going to marry Katrina and to inherit from her family. He is lost into his imaginations and finally, he is unable to face his realities. His downfall is caused by his fantasies which make him unable to work hard for Katrina. His beliefs in Ghosts and mythical tales makes him susceptible to Bone’s tricks, he is eventually defeated.
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In my opinion and concerning the theme of imagination, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is better suited to communicate with the reader that Rip Van Winkle. The theme of imagination is better established and the fate of the main character is well comprehensible and serves to give a lesson. The reader can better identify with the character of Crane than the character of Rip who slept for twenty years.
The lessons from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow are clearly portrayed by the themes, the plot and the characters. The story warns against the strong power of imagination and the consequences of allowing fantasies to overcome realities.
The author seems to express his opinion that it is better to imagine something better than to face something bad. Crane derives a lot of happiness and fulfillment from his imaginations; he therefore chooses imagination instead of reality. However, both stories are characteristically belonging to the romanticism due to emphasis of awe, apprehension, nature and horror (Baym 98).
Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vols. A & B. 8th Edition. New York: W W Norton & Co Inc (Np), 1998.
Irving, Washington. The Legend of the Sleeping Hollow and Other Stories in The Sketch Book. Ed. Perry Miller. New York: Signet Classics, 1961.