Rip Van Winkle Setting: Importance & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Setting
  • 0:26 The Catskill Mountains
  • 1:10 The Hudson River
  • 2:13 The 1700s in New York
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

In some stories, the setting isn't very important. However, in the story 'Rip Van Winkle,' the setting is very important to the story. Complete this lesson to find out why this story couldn't have happened in any other setting.


A story's setting includes both the time and the place that the tale takes place. The story ''Rip Van Winkle'' by Washington Irving is set in the mid-1700s, before the American Revolution in an unnamed village in New York in the Catskill Mountains. You might not think the time and place the story happened are important, but in ''Rip Van Winkle,'' the story couldn't have happened in any other setting.

The Catskill Mountains

The Catskill Mountains play an important role in the story. The author calls them a ''region full of fable,'' which means there are many tales about strange happenings in the Catskills. Irving also said that the Native Americans who lived in the area ''considered them the abode of spirits...''

The Catskill Mountains are a mysterious place, which makes them a perfect setting for a story in which ghosts appear, play games of ninepins, and drink liquor! There must be magic at work or how could Rip sleep for 20 years and wake up unharmed?

Irving also wrote that the ''old Dutch settlements'' in the mountains were ''very subject to marvellous events and appearances,'' and that the story of Rip Van Winkle wasn't the strangest one he'd heard! Irving has been quoted as saying that the Catskills ''bewitched his boyish imagination.''

The Hudson River

The strange men that Rip met on the mountain were identified by Peter Vanderdonk as Henry Hudson and the crew of his ship, the Half-moon. Henry Hudson was one of the earliest Europeans to explore the area that is now upstate New York. Hudson and his crew went about 150 miles up a river before they realized that it wasn't going to be a new path to the Pacific Ocean. This river was named the Hudson River.

On a later voyage, Hudson's men became upset with him and left Hudson and his son floating in a small boat in Hudson Bay, while they took the large ship back home. No one knows what became of Hudson, so he makes a perfect ghost for Irving's story.

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