The Narrator Introduces the Story: After a dramatic epigraph, the fictional narrator of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. states that he acquired the story of “Rip Van Winkle” from the papers of the deceased historian Deidrich Knickerbocker. Crayon sarcastically defends the purported accuracy of Knickerbocker’s works.
Rip Van Winkle and His Domestic Life: Rip is a sweet, simple, and obedient man who is loved by his village, except for by his “termagant” wife, Dame Van Winkle. Rip’s only flaw is “an... aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.” He does not care for his farm or supervise his children. Instead, Rip prefers to spend his time hunting and fishing, helping others in the village, and philosophizing with his friends at the local inn.
Rip Goes Hunting with His Dog: One day, to escape from his wife, Rip goes squirrel hunting in the Catskills with his dog, Wolf. Resting on a grassy knoll, Rip hears someone calling his name and sees a mysterious man trudging up the mountain toward him. The man is carrying a keg full of liquor and dressed in archaic Dutch-style clothing. He silently beckons Rip to help him with the keg. Rip is apprehensive, but he agrees and follows the man to a natural “amphitheatre.”
Rip Joins a Melancholy Party: Upon entering the amphitheatre, Rip observes a party of men playing nine-pins. They are all dressed in the old Dutch fashion. Despite the game, the men are silent and grave. The man Rip followed gestures to Rip to begin serving liquor to the men. Rip is afraid at first, but as he serves the men he relaxes and eventually begins drinking the liquor himself. After some time, he falls into a deep sleep.
Rip Returns to His Village: Rip wakes up on the green knoll where he had first sat down. It’s morning and there is no sign of the strange men. A rusty old gun lies where his own had been, and his dog is gone. Upon returning to his village, Rip finds the people and fashions unfamiliar. He discovers that his beard has grown out to be a foot long and his house is abandoned. The inn has been rebuilt and his friends are nowhere to be found. The villagers question Rip about his politics, and accuse him of being a tory and a spy when he refers to himself as a “subject of the King.”
Rip Tells His Story: Rip asks after his friends and learns they have all died or moved away. He meets his daughter, Judith, now a married woman, who tells Rip that his wife has recently died. Rip reveals himself as her father, and though there is widespread doubt about his story, another villager corroborates his story with historical accounts of the mountains’ haunting by “the great Hendrick Hudson” every twenty years.
Rip Acclimates to Modern Society: Judith takes Rip in to live with her and her family. As an older man, Rip is able to live the idle life he always wanted. He does not involve himself with the changes in American politics. Over time, Rip’s story loses its initial inaccuracies and becomes so well-known that all of those living in the village know it by heart.
Narrator’s Note and Post Script: Geoffrey Crayon adds a note from Diedrich Knickerbocker to the end of the story, which states that the story is “absolute fact.” Knickerbocker writes that he had spoken with Rip himself and seen a signed affidavit as to the story’s authenticity. Crayon further adds a postscript from other writing of Knickerbocker’s, which relates some Native American folklore of the Catskills and the Kaaterskill Creek.