Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle, a figure based on a character from a German folktale. His name is still used to refer to anyone who is content to sleep his life away or who spends much of his time in sleepy idleness. As a character, he is not so much an as-if-real person as he is the embodiment of a common human desire—to sleep through all the trials and tribulations of adulthood and thus to move painlessly from childhood to the second childhood of old age. Diedrich Knickerbocker describes Rip as a simple, good-natured man who is a kind and considerate neighbor. Although he is a favorite among the neighborhood wives, who defend him, and the village children, with whom he is always willing to shoot marbles or fly kites, he is henpecked by his wife at home. Because of Rip’s aversion to work, his fences are always in ruins, his yard is filled with weeds, and he has the worst farm in the neighborhood. His one faithful companion, to whom he turns when his wife’s nagging becomes too much to bear, is his old dog, Wolf. After Rip’s twenty-year sleep in the Catskills, he returns to a changed world, having slept through the turbulent beginnings of the American republic. Now that he is an old man with a long white beard, he can enjoy his old age as a respected patriarch who can be idle with impunity. Thus, he lives out his life as a storyteller, entertaining the children of the village with the fantastic tale of how he went into the mountains and bowled nine pins with the spirits of Hendrick Hudson and his men, who cast him into a twenty-year sleep.
Dame Van Winkle
Dame Van Winkle, who has become the stereotype of the nagging wife in American literature. Although Rip certainly needs to be prodded to do any work around the house, she is presented as a hateful scold who finally drives Rip out of his house.
Nicholas Vedder, the patriarch of the village and landlord of the village inn in the first part of the story. He communicates his opinion by puffing rapidly on his pipe when displeased and slowly and lazily when pleased.
Rip Van Winkle (the son)
Rip Van Winkle (the son), a lazy, ragged counterpart of Rip Van Winkle. When Rip first sees his son on his return from his long sleep, he thinks, “I’m not myself—I’m somebody else—that’s me yonder—no—that’s somebody else got into my shoes.”
Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman, familiar with the history of old Dutch New York, who tells the story of Rip Van Winkle.
Hendrick Hudson, the explorer who discovered the Hudson River. Along with the crew of his ship, the Half Moon, he keeps a vigil in the mountains every twenty years.
Peter Vanderdonk, the oldest inhabitant of the village when Rip returns. He is well versed in the history of the neighborhood and thus is the only one who recognizes Rip.