Rip at first wonders, when he comes home from having been asleep for twenty years, if he is "bewitched." He believes he has been gone only one night, but everything around him seems changed. He notices too that the "character" of the people is different: rather than apathetic, they are "busy," energized, and politically engaged in a way they were not before his very long nap. When he says he is a loyal subject of the king, to his surprise people react angrily and accuse him of being a traitor.
As Rip realizes what has happened to him, he proclaims that he is old Rip Van Winkle. At first, the villagers think he is crazy, but when Peter Vanderdonk confirms his story, Rip's tale is accepted. His daughter takes him into her home.
Rip represents the old ways of the colonists under British rule. He is a relic of a former time, an apathetic contrast to the bustling and energized citizens of the new United States.