Thorpe’s “Big Bear of Arkansas” and Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”


While both stories contain minimal dialogue, Irving’s tall tale is almost entirely fictional and few people are likely to believe it. It’s a fable, a folk story. Thorpe’s “Big Bear of Arkansas,” on the other hand, is more realistic and probable. Irving tries to ground “Rip Van Winkle” in history by providing the reader with an introduction that indicates that the story was found in the papers of the late Dietrich Knickerbocker but in comparison to Thorpe’s “Big Bear of Arkansas,” it still seems to be only a sketch. As a tall tale is not as believable and appears to be an allegory.

Tall tales are appealing to young America because they capture the imagination of the frontier. Photos are rare and black-and-white and video is not existent. All America has at this time is stories or rather spoken word stories, since many people can’t read and books are expensive and difficult to transport. The spoken word relies on plot and the more exciting the plot (or the essence of the story) the more exciting the story itself. Exciting stories also engage listeners more and are as a result more likely to be retold. As a result unbelievable or almost believable tall tales are ideal vehicles for entertainment in a young America.


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