What Is "Rip Van Winkle" About?


"Rip Van Winkle" tells the tale of a lovable but rather lazy man who falls asleep after drinking some moonshine and awakens some 20 years later to a world that has changed completely for him. This short story by Washington Irving is set in pre- and post-Revolutionary New York.

The title character, Rip Van Winkle, lives with his wife and children at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. He doesn't like to work, and his nagging wife causes him to stay away from the house as much as possible.

One day he and his dog climb the mountain to shoot squirrels. He comes upon a strange looking group of men playing ninepins who offer him moonshine. He drinks it and falls asleep.

When he wakes up, his gun is rusted, his dog is gone and his beard is long and white. He wanders back to the village where he finds only strangers. Unaware that the Revolutionary War occurred while he slept, he introduces himself as a loyal subject of the king, and the people around him react angrily. He learns his wife is dead and his children are now grown. His daughter tells him he wandered away 20 years ago and never returned, but she accepts him into the home she now shares with her husband. His story becomes popular in the area, though not all believe it.