What is "Rip Van Winkle" about and what does it mean?

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bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question is very broad, and we usually deal with specific questions at eNotes. I can give you a brief overview and direct you to some eNotes sites that will fill in the details for you.

"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story about a man (Rip) who lives in a Dutch village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains in New York. The tall tale opens and closes with a narrator who tells the reader that he/she should believe the story and assures us that it is indeed true. Then the narrator begins his story. Rip has a farm, but he spends most of his time drinking and talking at the local inn, playing with other children, or helping neighbors. He, however, neglects his own farm, and his wife, Dame Van Winkle, has quite a few things to say to Rip about his neglect. One day, Rip goes into the woods to escape his nagging wife (Rip's opinion)and falls asleep for twenty years. It is just before the American Revolution, about 1770, when he falls asleep. When Rip awakens, he doesn't realize how long he's been sleeping until he goes down the mountain to his village. He realizes the American Revolution has been fought and won and is told his wife has died. Rip comes across his daughter and goes to live with her, happy that he's no longer fettered by the "yoke of matrimony".

As for the meaning  of the story, go the themes site below, and it will give you the necessary information. You might also want to reread or skim over the story to better understand it.

Read the study guide:
Rip Van Winkle

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