R.I.P. to the Hero of Husbands

American Literature, Editors

Rebecca Reese

“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving is a classic example of what all men dream of. You enjoy shrugging off responsibilities in order to hang out with your friends, tell stories, and play with the little kids. However, your wife does not share in your love of relaxation above real hard work. So, you escape from your nagging wife into the woods to go hunting when suddenly you see a man struggling to carry a keg. Of course, since you are a good man, you help him carry the keg to his destination which you find out is a giant party. You drink to your heart’s content and lay down to take a nap. However, when you finally wake up, you realize you have slept for 20 years! Your annoying wife is dead and gone; you did not have to fight in the big war; plus, now you are old and can roam the town as you like. You take on the lazy but fun grandfather role and live out the rest of your life in pure bliss.

I believe the validity of this story ought to be tested. Sounds more like someone wanted to get away from their wife and responsibilities; so, they ran away for a while and came back when they realized the coast was clear and they would not have to fight in a war or deal with a nagging wife. However, it seems that this character is held as a hero—no one even questions if these men in the mountains are real and he is welcomed back into their village with open arms. Imagine if the story was reversed: a mother ran away from home, drank some drink from strange people playing games in a mountain, and then fell asleep for years upon years. I doubt she would have gotten the same reaction from the townspeople. I doubt her children would welcome her back into their home. I doubt anyone would have believed her story at all. So, is there a double standard for mothers and fathers? Is there a gap between what is expected of a mom rather than a dad? Maybe I am reading into this too much or maybe I made a wrong assumption, but either way these are questions that can be found in our society. It seems every day that equality for all is a hot topic, and every day steps are made in the right direction. However, it also seems that there will always be a sense of what a mother should and should not do and what a father should and should not do. Does this mean that they are unequal? Or does it simply mean that one was made to be one way and the other was made to be another? These are questions that those calling for equality ought to think about: maybe our idea of equality can never be reached.

Another topic from this story is the idea of commitment. Rip Van Winkle slept through all of his commitments and had no consequences. Today’s society often encourages people to have a similar idea about commitments: marriage, religion, sexuality, or anything really. The world says that you define your own truth; so, why should you have to commit to anything? If you get tired of being in a marriage with someone, you simply get a divorce. When you get offended by a certain preacher, you just leave that church and move down the block to the next one. According to the world you have the right to run away when times get tough, and when you finally decide to come back and present some sob story about why you have been gone, then you are hailed as a hero for going through such a tragedy. All I can say is that I hope by the world’s definition I am never labeled as a hero. I hope that I can be labeled as a hero by those who stand tall through all the world has to throw at them and lean on God’s promises. Those are the real heroes.


  • I love how you question the validity of this story. That is interesting to think about what the reaction would have been to the wife being gone for twenty years. I doubt that the reactions would have been quite the same or as positive. I also completely agree that there is a reward for lack of commitment in the story which fits with our culture, but that behavior should not be praised. This is well written and I appreciated your insights.

  • I do like the idea of sleeping through my problems, but I don’t think we hold fathers as hero’s for skipping town and leaving family behind. I also agree that the time of equality has already passed and now most people strive for equity, which is a very judgmental practice. Also, I don’t think you could have written that last paragraph any better. The hero of the modern age is sad.

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