In "Rip Van Winkle," Washington Irving pays a great deal of attention to the landscape: the mountains, river, and weather that colors them.  1. What specific details does Irving include? 2. What...

In "Rip Van Winkle," Washington Irving pays a great deal of attention to the landscape: the mountains, river, and weather that colors them. 

1. What specific details does Irving include?
2. What different moods does the landscape have?
3. Does the landscape influence Rip's story in any way?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. As a writer in the Romantic period, Washington Irving describes the Catskill Mountains as both beautiful, majestic, and mysterious. Van Winkle's colonial village is either the real village of Catskill or Palenville at the foot of these mountains. Irving describes these mountains as a "dismembered branch" of the Appalachians as viewed far to the west of the Hudson River that swells "up to noble height and lording it over the surrounding country." With the change of seasons, there comes "some change in the magical hues and shapes" of the mountains. For instance, when the weather is clear the peaks are draped in purple and blue, but when there are clouds, the mountains "gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits" that at sunset "glow and light up like a crown of glory."

As Rip sneaks away from his chores and goes on "a long ramble," he "scrambles" to the summits of the Catskills. At last, he throws himself down upon a grassy knoll and rests; through an opening in the trees, he is able to view the rich woodland below and see the mighty river as colors change over the scenery, varying from grays to blues to deep purples. a distance the lordly Hudson...moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.

On the other side, Rip sights a deep mountain glen on whose cliffs the setting sun is reflected. Long, blue shadows lie over the valleys.

2. There is an echoing of the reports of his gun as Rip hunts; later, a mood of quiet solitude settles over the heights as Van Winkle lies on the green knoll under the "light and placid clouds." Rip sighs as he thinks that it is late to return home, and he will suffer the scoldings of Dame Van Winkle.

3. Certainly, there is a mystery to the wondrous purple heights of the Catskill Mountains. This mystery is enhanced by the strange sounds that Rip Van Winkle hears someone calling to him, a "short, square-guilt old fellow, with thick bushy hair and a grizzled beard." On his shoulder he carries a large keg of liquor; he walks with this strange little man, and he hears a "long rolling peals like distant thunder" coming from the deep ravines. At last, they come to a level area and Rip observes men playing "at ninepins." When they rest, they share their drink with Rip.

In this strange world of shadows and hues of purple and blue, the mountains are shrouded in mystery with odd little men about, men who share a beverage with him that tastes like a Dutch gin. Van Winkle so enjoys imbibing this drink that he finally lies down and falls into a deep sleep. When he awakens, Van Winkle is disorientated and notices an old, rusty "firecock" beside him; the lock falls off when he touches it.

When Rip attempts to revisit the site of the day before, nothing looks familiar; in fact, it is somewhat threatening:

...he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs, to the amphitheater--but no traces of such opening remained. The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep basin black from the shadows of the surrounding forest.

With great difficulty Rip finds his way home, but at last he does see "the silver Hudson" and the familiar hills and dales; so, he approaches his village, only to be further confounded by the changes in it. Everything seems but a mysterious dream.

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Rip Van Winkle

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