How does the setting contribute to the story's meaning and effect?
Washington Irving sets the story in Revolutionary America – the portraits in the inn are the biggest clue to this. The portrait of King George is replaced with a portrait of George Washington. So the theme of “petticoat government” applies not only to the henpecking of Dame Van Winkle but also to the “henpecking” of the British government in the Colonies. For the readers, this time period is long ago, and Irving is using the distance between the time of the reader and the time of the story to lend a sense of credibility to the story. It also takes place in the mysterious Catskill Mountains – So the setting is “long ago” in “a far-away place,” like many of the most imaginative tales (“Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away”). This adds to the mystery of the story and clues the reader to the fact that the story is fanciful or fantastic (like a fairy tale or a science fiction movie). Distance in time and place serves to heighten the story’s supernatural elements, while the specific time period of the story is meant to connect the henpecking of Dame Van Winkle to other forms of “petticoat government.”