The paper focuses on singling out the similarities between two famous short story characters: Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle from “Rip Van Winkle” and Willa Cather’s Anton Rosicky from “Neighbour Rosicky.” The main emphasis is made on such features pertaining to the two men as independence, intelligence, and life journey. The introduction offers a brief overview of the major common aspects of the two character’s identities. Further, the men’s independence and inner strength are analyzed as essential similarities and significant features of character. Next, the two men’s intelligence is analyzed as the possibility of adjusting to various problems they encounter. Finally, the life journey of Van Winkle and Rosicky is compared with the aim of finding common aspects between them. In the conclusion, the main points made in the paper are reiterated as the justification of the thesis statement. The ideas expressed in the paper are supported by scholarly sources, as well as the short stories in question.
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Keywords: Rip Van Winkle, Anton Rosicky, intelligence, independence, journey.
Rip Van Winkle and Anton Rosicky: Similarities between the Two Characters
Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and Willa Carter’s “Neighbour Rosicky” seem to have nothing in common at first sight: both short stories were written in different time periods, they reveal various social issues, and their central themes are quite dissimilar. However, despite these divergences, there are several aspects uniting the two literary works. Firstly, both short stories under consideration are regarded as masterpieces of literature for their unique interpretation of people’s lives during the respective periods. Secondly, the main characters in both stories – Rip Van Winkle and Anton Rosicky – are male, and they both personify specific features of the life of an ordinary man in a certain time and circumstances. Many character traits are common for various people, and writers frequently describe them to help the readers understand themselves and others better. Rip Van Winkle and Anton Rosicky have quite different attitudes toward labor. However, it is not one character’s idleness and the other’s diligence that is the most distinctive feature about them. While there are some evident dissimilarities between Rip Van Winkle and Anton Rosicky, they are similar in the aspects of independence, intelligence, and journeys.
The first striking similarity between Rip Van Winkle and Anton Rosicky is their independence and inner strength. Both men have quite different reasons for asserting such freedom. For Rosicky, it is the endeavor to fight against his illness and return to the normal life despite the doctor’s verdict about his having “a bad heart” (Cather, 2003, p. 1843). For Van Winkle, it is the need to escape his wife, who keeps “continually dinning his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family” (Irving, 1819, p. 10). Despite such contrasting causes of independence, both characters demonstrate this feature to a considerable extent. Rosicky is one of those men who are said to have made themselves. He has worked hard throughout all his life to provide for his family and lived his life honestly (Cather, 2003). It comes as a great surprise for Rosicky that his independence, which, for him, is the ability to work physically, can be taken away from him due to an illness (Cather, 2003). Rosicky argues with his doctor about the kinds of labor he is and is not allowed to do further because of worrying about his income. Financial independence is no more crucial for him than his family’s happiness: he wants to make sure that his beloved wife and children are not disturbed with his diagnosis (Cather, 2003). What concerns Rip Van Winkle, his independence may not have such noble reasons, but it is vital for the character’s happiness. To gain it, he spends time running errands for anyone but his wife and hunting with his loyal dog (Irving, 1819). Thus, both characters are presented as independent men taking responsibility for their own lives.
Another common feature about Rip Van Winkle and Anton Rosicky is that they are both smart and inventive in a particular way, which allows them to cope with arising problems. Rosicky utilizes his intelligence to overcome negative feelings and adjust his life to the newly emerged health condition (Cather, 2003). When he is thinking over the doctor’s advice, Rosicky is not desperate or miserable. Instead, quite sober-mindedly, he is considering what task he could come up with for himself that would enable him both to take care of his heart and not feel useless. When he confesses the diagnosis to his wife, Anton immediately suggests that she could find “some carpenter work” for him to do (Cather, 2003, p. 1848). Furthermore, Rosicky’s intelligence is also manifested in his wit: when his sons become too protective, he says he is “an old man,” and not “an old woman yet” (Cather, 2003, p. 1850). Meanwhile, Rip Van Winkle has to be smart enough to understand what is going on around him. In fact, although the author ways that Van Winkle is “one of those happy mortals, of foolish <…> dispositions,” it seems that in this foolishness, the character’s wisdom is concealed (Irving, 1819, p. 10). It is also mentioned that Van Winkle is a frequent attendant of “a club” of philosophers and sages (Irving, 1819, p. 11). Still, although the man’s intelligence is depicted with some irony, it is evident that he realizes quite well where he is and what he is doing. Pretending to be silly may be the main manifestation of Van Winkle’s acumen and foresight. It is viable to conclude that the intelligence of both men helps them to overcome obstacles and remain confident. With the help of the power of perception, the two characters are able to make important decisions that ultimately change their lives.
Finally, another distinct similarity between Rosicky and Van Winkle is their unusual life journey. In Rosicky’s case, it is the complicated journey from a poor young man to a good provider for his family, during which he has never stolen a thing or betrayed his ideals (Cather, 2003). As Marquis (2005) remarks, the character of Rosicky represents a “uniquely American conflict” between production from physical work as a means of familial consumption and that of income generation (p. 185). Rosicky not only grows up his own food but also sells the leftovers to buy various things for the household (Cather, 2003). During his rough road of life, Rosicky has never complained or felt sorry for making a wrong turn. His family is his greatest treasure, and his wife and children are the dearest people in the whole world to him. Not only Anton himself but other people, too, notice how loving and caring his relationships with his life companion, Mary, are. The shop-assistant notes that she has never seen “a man buy so much candy for his wife” (Cather, 2003, p. 1847). Meanwhile, the doctor says, “If I had a good wife like yours, I’d want to stay around the house” (Cather, 2003, p. 1844). The same thing cannot be said about Rip Van Winkle’s wife and their relations. However, Van Winkle’s life journey is also peculiar and unique. In fact, it is possible to single out two major journeys in Van Winkle’s life: the one that happens before his falling asleep and the actual state of a long sleep in the Catskill Mountains. Staley (2012) compares Van Winkle’s journey to that of Odyssey, calling the former an “ironic and humorous embodiment” of the latter (p. 90). After returning to his village, Van Winkle has to adapt to the current circumstances. The same can be said about Rosicky, whose life journey has altered to a great extent after he has learned about his illness. Hence, both characters’ plans for the future and thoughts about the present should be changed according to the new conditions.
Although Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky” are quite different stories, their main characters have common traits. Specifically, they are similar in the aspects of independence, intelligence, and journeys. Both Van Winkle and Rosicky are independent men striving to sustain their freedom. Both characters are intelligent and inventive, which enables them to cope with difficulties. Finally, both Rosicky and Van Winkle have unusual life journeys that have affected each of them. Due to these similarities, the authors were able to give readers essential knowledge about life and make them reflect on crucial issues.
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Cather, W. (2003). Neighbour Rosicky. In N. Baym (Ed.), The Norton anthology of American literature (6th ed.) (pp. 1843-1863). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Irving, W. (1819). Rip Van Winkle.
Marquis, M. E. (2005). The producing male body in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.” The Journal of Men’s Studies, 13(2), 185-197.
Staley, G. A. (2012). Rip Van Winkle’s “Odyssey.” Greece & Rome, 59(1), 90-103.