What is Rip Van Winkle like at the beginning of the story? Where does he go to escape from his life? Why does he like it there?  

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pcmcdona eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of his sketch "Rip Van Winkle," Washington Irving's narrator lets the reader know that Rip is a rather lazy person who is not interested in working hard.  Furthermore, we see that his wife thinks the same about both him and his dog and best friend, Wolf.  The first time the reader meets Rip, the narrator begins,

he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor and an obedient, henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad who are under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation, and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering.

From this passage, we can see that his wife has quite a bit of control over him at home, he being a "henpecked husband."  Furthermore, the indication that his spirit is "pliant and malleable" demonstrates his wife's influence over him.  The narrator continues to describe Rip as lazy by noting that 

the great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.

Though averse to "profitable labor," we are told that he is willing to do work for others:

Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, it was impossible.

Thus, we see Rip at the story's beginning as a kind of lazy but well-meaning man who is married to a rather domineering and disappointed wife.

Because of his domestic situation, Rip (at least at the story's beginning) enjoys spending time at a local public house:

he used to console himself, when driven from home, by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle personages of the village, which held its sessions on a bench before a small inn, designated by a rubicund portrait of his majesty George the Third. Here they used to sit in the shade, of a long lazy summer’s day, talking listlessly over village gossip, or telling endless sleepy stories about nothing.

This gathering of "sages, philosophers, and other idle personages" gives Rip the pleasure of society that he does not get at home with his wife and Wolf.  By "talking listlessly" and "telling...stories" about the happenings of the village, the men's club presents a stark contrast to both the labor for himself that Rip abhors and the wife who embodies these demands.

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Rip Van Winkle

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