Rip Van Winkle Characters
The main characters in “Rip Van Winkle” are Rip Van Winkle, Dame Van Winkle, Henry Hudson, Peter Vanderdonk, Judith Gardenier, and Diedrich Knickerbocker.
- Rip Van Winkle is the protagonist; he falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up twenty years later.
- Dame Van Winkle is Rip's nagging wife.
- Henry Hudson is a famous explorer whom Rip meets in the mountains.
- Peter Vanderdonk is the oldest man in the village and the only one to recognize Rip when he returns.
- Judith Gardenier is Rip's daughter; she takes him in after his return to the village.
- Diedrich Knickerbocker is a historian who narrates Rip’s story.
Last Updated on February 4, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1931
Washington Irving set the story of "Rip Van Winkle" in New York state near the Catskill Mountains. The narrator, Geoffrey Crayon, is another character created by Irving. Crayon claims that Rip Van Winkle’s story hails from the historian Diedrich Knickerbocker. Diedrich Knickerbocker features in other works by Irving and is a notoriously unreliable character. Along with these layers of fiction, Rip's story also includes elements of reality. The character Hendrick (Henry) Hudson, whom Rip meets in the mountains, is based on an explorer for the Dutch East India Company. The real Henry Hudson lived in the late 1500s and explored the Hudson River Valley, where Rip’s story unfolds. In the story, Rip manages to see the spirits of Henry Hudson and his men, and upon drinking their beer, he falls into a long sleep. Rip wakes up two decades later to a world that has drastically changed.
Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle is good natured, simple, and idle. He frequently helps others but often neglects his family and farm. This tendency results in conflict with his pugnacious wife. "Rip Van Winkle" at first takes place before the American Revolution. Rip lives a simple life in a small colony in New York, populated by Dutch settlers. The colonies are still under the rule of King George III. Rip is loved by many in his village. Dogs never bark at him, the children love him, and the women of the village find no fault with him.
However, Rip neglects his farm, wife, and children. He is unable to grow food properly, and out of frustration and idleness he focuses his efforts on anything but his domestic life. His children are ragged and wild, and his wife, Dame Van Winkle, is constantly frustrated with him. Dame Van Winkle often nags him for his lack of effort. When Rip tires of the way his wife treats him, he tries to escape by lounging in front of the inn with the town’s other idle men. Rip's wife, however, follows Rip there, and goes on to nag not only Rip but all the idle men that sit in front of the inn.
One day, Rip goes squirrel hunting in the Catskill mountains, bringing with him his dog and a gun. Up in the mountains, Rip finds himself on the highest part of a grassy green knoll. Just as he lays down to rest and survey the land around him, he hears someone calling his name. He looks around to find a strange man in traditional Dutch clothing climbing up the mountain toward him with a giant barrel upon his back. Rip’s dog, Wolf, growls at the strange man, but Rip characteristically goes to help him without caution. Rip helps the man carry the barrel of beer up a strange and barren river bed and into a hollow. In the hollow, several strange men all dressed in odd, outdated outfits are playing a game of ninepins. The men are silent, save for the game, which sounds like rolling thunder. Rip serves the eerily quiet men the beer from the barrel. After serving them, Rip begins to drink it himself. The beer is so good that Rip drinks too much and falls into a long sleep.
When Rip awakens, he is back on the grassy knoll. Next to him is an old rusted gun that he at first doesn’t recognize as his own. Rip’s beard has grown to be a foot long, and his dog has disappeared. Rip tries to find the strange men again. He goes to the riverbed that he had walked on, but he finds that it has turned into a river. Rip is unable to find the strange hollow, so he goes back to his village. Rip’s entire life and world is altered. His wife, to his relief, is dead and gone. However, he is sad to hear that many of his friends are also dead or have left the town. His house is abandoned and in shambles, and his dog no longer recognizes him. To Rip's surprise, the village has become a bustling place of commerce and politics. After Rip's long sleep, his idle and simple way of life appears to be a thing of the past. Commerce and politics are now part of village life, showing how times have changed from rural and simple to modern.
The village, like the rest of the colonies, is in the midst of the American Revolution. Rip doesn’t care much for politics and is, as usual, idle and easygoing. Rip sees his son, who is the very reflection of himself, and meets his daughter, Judith, who takes him in. The villagers at first do not believe Rip’s odd story about his disappearance. They call upon the ancient and wise Peter Vanderdonk, who has lived in the village the longest. Peter claims that Rip encountered the spirit of Henry Hudson, who explored and helped settle the area. Peter tells the villagers that Hudson visits every twenty years to survey his land. Most of the older villagers believe Rip's story and credit the existence of Hudson's spirit. Even the younger villagers, who are more skeptical, begin to like Rip. Rip’s story later serves as a comfort to all the men who want to escape their nagging wives. The men are said to wish for a sip of the mystical beer Rip tasted and find themselves freed by a long and deep sleep.
Dame Van Winkle
Dame Van Winkle is Rip Van Winkle’s nagging wife. Rip often tries to escape her contentious nature by spending time with the men outside the inn. He also escapes her by going hunting and fishing. Dame Van Winkle is portrayed as a villain, deserving of blame. Yet, Dame Van Winkle is justified in her nagging, given that Rip won't work the farm or help with domestic matters. Rip leaves Dame Van Winkle alone to fend for the family.
Dame Van Winkle is also called a “virago,” which is a domineering woman. However, the term “virago” may also refer to a warrior woman. This highlights how Dame Van Winkle fights throughout the story against her husband. She does so to help herself and her family. Dame Van Winkle is so domineering that even Rip’s dog, Wolf, is afraid of her. Despite all of Dame Van Winkle’s efforts, her husband still does not help her. He instead goes hunting and disappears for twenty years. She passes away before he returns. Rip is relieved by her death, happy to be free from her.
Dame Van Winkle is characterized throughout the story by industrial descriptions. She represents commerce, growth, and hard work. Rip is the antithesis of Dame Van Winkle in that he enjoys an idle and gentle rural life. Dame Van Winkle and Rip show the contrast between rural peace and urban expansiveness among early American colonies. During Rip’s disappearance, his way of life begins to disappear as well. Dame Van Winkle’s lifestyle and work ethic ends up taking hold of the village and colonies instead. Rip’s rural, simple, and idle life stands as a relic of the past. Rip’s disappearance results in his stopping in time and never changing. Dame Van Winkle continues to live in the rapidly changing town before her death, showing her ability to work and change. Dame Van Winkle's death also highlights her modern sensibility, as she dies in a fit of energy and passion.
Judith is Rip’s daughter, who takes him in when he returns from the mountains. Judith represents the changes in society that have taken place since Rip’s disappearance. This can be seen by her changed last name and current family situation. She married a helpful husband of French descent, which changes her names from Van Winkle to Cardenier. This shows how the town has not only changed in size and politics, but also in demographics. Judith’s life, so different from Rip's and her mother's, shows how things have changed. Rip's simple and idle lifestyle is being slowly forgotten.
Rip Van Winkle, Jr.
Rip Van Winkle’s son, also named Rip Van Winkle, is almost an exact likeness of his father. He even has the same personality, exhibiting the same idleness that his father does. When Rip Van Winkle returns from his long absence and sees his son, he mistakes his son for himself. They look so alike that Rip feels confused enough to question his own existence and sanity. It is also plain that Rip Van Winkle’s son is not married, showing that the Van Winkle family name won’t be passed down.
The Stranger is the odd man whom Rip Van Winkle encounters and helps in the Catskill mountains. He is dressed in traditional Dutch clothing and is short and square in shape, with bushy hair and a grizzly beard. He calls out to Rip Van Winkle and asks Rip to help him carry his barrel of beer. The stranger says nothing else to Rip as he leads him to the odd group of men in the hollow of a dried riverbed. When the stranger and Rip arrive at the hollow, the stranger gestures for Rip to serve them beer, which Rip later drinks himself.
Hendrick (Henry) Hudson
Henry Hudson (1565-1611) was an explorer for the Dutch East India Company in the late 1500s. Hudson at first explored the area to find a northern passage to Asia. Due to his exploration, the Dutch later settled in the northeastern United States. In “Rip Van Winkle,” Henry Hudson haunts the Catskill mountains every 20 years with his group of men. They play nine pins together, which causes sounds like rolling thunder.
In “Rip Van Winkle,” Henry Hudson stands as an allusion to the European myths of “sleeping kings” who hide in the mountains. Hudson watches over the land he helped explore and found, much like a monarch. Relating the story of Hudson to old European myths of monarchs contributes to the folkloric atmosphere of “Rip Van Winkle.” This mix of the old with the new gives America its own identity, stories, and lore.
Nicholas Vedder is the inn’s quiet and idle landlord. He is part of the group of “philosophers” who sits outside the inn and whom Rip Van Winkle joins. Nicholas doesn’t talk much and smokes constantly; he is also labeled a “patriarch” of the village.
Nicholas Vedder dies soon after Rip’s disappearance. His tombstone is decayed and gone by the time Rip returns.
Derrick Van Bummel
Derrick Van Bummel is the schoolmaster of the village. He is a learned, dapper, and small man. After Rip’s disappearance, Van Bummel went on to become a militia general and joined congress.
Brom Dutcher is Rip Van Winkle’s friend. After Rip’s disappearance, Dutcher went to war and died in the Revolution.
Peter Vanderdonk is the village’s oldest and wisest man. He has extensive knowledge of the local history, traditions, and folklore. The villagers call on him to prove Rip Van Winkle’s story. Peter shares the story of Henry Hudson's vicennial visits to the Catskills. Peter’s account convinces the villagers that Rip is telling the truth about his disappearance.
The Self-Important Man
The self-important man speaks with Rip once he returns. He is able to keep the crowds calm as they speak with Rip and ascertain the truth of his identity. The man leans on a cane and wears a pointed hat.
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