What is the structure of "Rip Van Winkle," noting that the tale begins in one place, follows Rip on a journey, and returns to the starting place?
This is an interesting question because it gets to the heart of how Rip Van Winkle moves from a static to a dynamic story.
When we first encounter Rip, he's part of a quiet, out-of-way village where time seems to stand still. The villagers sit outside the tavern and discuss basically nothing of consequence, and we get the impression that nothing in the outside world affects their almost insular world. Rip's character reinforces this impression because he's even more removed from the "world" than some of the other characters, his only serious occupations being sleeping, doing odd jobs, and hunting. Even in this quiet place, he is ridiculed for his lack of work ethic.
During the middle part of the story, Rip goes hunting, meets some mythological figures--enhancing our view of the place as "outside of time"--gets drunk and falls asleep for an unknown period of time.
When Rip returns to the village, he is absolutely unchanged--except for having aged twenty years--but he walks into a village that is radically different from the village he left. First, his wife is dead, his children are grown, and most of his friends are gone, so Rip is completely confused as to what has happened to change the town.
Even though the town is in the same place, however, it's not the place Rip left. When he goes to the tavern, for example, one of the first things he notices is tavern's sign which, instead of depicting King George III, now depicts George Washington. More important, though, is that Rip realizes that the character of the people seems to have changed--they are much more engaged, more aggressive, in their discussion, and they are talking about politics, exactly what one would expect in a newly democratic society.
The new democratic world of the United States is what Rip has returned to, and with it, the nature of the citizens has changed fundamentally. The village is now part of the democratic dialogue that is going on all over the former colonies, a situation that, unfortunately, is completely foreign to Rip, who has slept through the most compelling change in his country in history.