Overview

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.

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Characters

Washington Irving based 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...

(The entire section is 1,930 words.)