Dame Van Winkle's character is a foil, or an opposite/contrasting type of character, to her husband Rip. This provides tension within the plot as Rip's characterization is developed. The reader must decide if Rip is a lazy man and deserves the treatment he is receiving or if his wife is irrational and too demanding. The answer is probably that both are correct. The characteristics of Rip's marriage might also be representative of the stress placed on families in the newly colonized American continent to preserve life and the values that built the United States. It took a strong and resilient people to populate and survive the American frontier! Dame Van Winkle was the type of person to get the work done whereas Rip wasn't. Another analogy might be that Rip represents the British people and his wife represents the strength of a new nation that won't put up with lazy people. Notice that Rip is loyal to the British crown because he slept through the revolution. Apparently, the U.S. did a fine job without Rip's "help".
On the other hand, America's newness and confidence can be felt through Rip's character. He appreciates the beautiful frontier and all it has to offer, such as fishing. The frontier is wild and untamed, but it is also free like Rip wanted to be. The relationship with his wife could represent the conflict between the merging of two different worlds and the results of it. Either way, the differences between the couple provide for a good polarizing effect for the story that helps to support the plot.