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Kann, D.J. (1979). “Rip Van Winkle”: Wheels within Wheels. Am. Imago, 36(2):178-196.

(1979). American Imago, 36(2):178-196

“Rip Van Winkle”: Wheels within Wheels

David J. Kann

The Issue of Truth

By Woden, God of Saxons

From whence comes Wensday, that is Wodensday,

Truth is a thing that ever I will keep

Unto thylke day in which I creep into

My sepulchre—

This epigraph to “Rip Van Winkle” is either an assurance that the story is the truth, or that the “real” meaning of the story will be kept from the reader. These two interpretations may be considered alternately. If they are considered simultaneously, the nature of dreams and the action of dreaming become a way into the story and define the function of the epigraph.

To be sure, the story is arranged chronologically, moving in a straight line from Rip “dodging about the village” to Rip at his ease on the bench before the inn. I sense syntactic order in the grammar and language of the tale as well. The sentences are long, for the most part. They are replete with parallel and periodic structure. Symmetry and order appear to rule. The first paragraphs of the story, moving as they do from the large mountains to the village at their foot to the residents of the village, appear orderly and rigorous in their progression from large to small and abstract to concrete.

But, for me, this unity was not present. I found myself frustrated by the end. I felt as if I had experienced a set of events in which the parts did not comprise an orderly whole. My response led me to begin to think in terms of the possibility of the appearance of order in the grammar of the sentences in the story and the ordering of events as a defense, even a sort of seduction, to coax me to suspend my judgment.

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