Rip Van Winkle
The title character Rip Van Winkle is a kind, gentle, and generous man, who is eager and willing to help his neighbors but who hates to work for profit on his own farm. Thus, he is well liked by others in the "old" village but is insufferable to his wife because he does not support his family by farming. Rip escapes the torment of his wife's complaints by sitting and talking with his group of friends or by going off by himself. He likes to fish and hunt with his dog, Wolf. When his wife's nagging becomes intolerable, he feels he must escape farther, so he climbs up into the mountains to find some peace and quiet. That's where he meets the stranger and falls asleep for 20 years. When Rip returns to the town he left, he is bewildered by the changes he sees.
Dame Van Winkle
Dame Van Winkle is Rip's wife and the mother of his son and daughter. She is a terrible nag, who makes Rip's life a misery. Because Rip hates to work on the farm, she is always berating him, and he is always running away to escape her nagging. She is a harsh, loud, and intolerant woman who speaks her mind when people do things she doesn't like, as when she nearly attacks a peddler who arrives, uninvited, at her door. Although she is a figure of fun and scorn in the story, it might be that her husband's refusal to do the work needed to support his family is what turned her into a shrew. In the story, her ferocious nagging is what sends Rip on his fateful climb up the mountain.
The stranger is a man Rip sees up on the mountain. Dressed in old-fashioned Dutch clothes, he carries a keg of liquor up the mountainside to a group of men who are playing ninepins. The stranger signals to Rip to help him carry the keg, and Rip does, even though he finds the man "incomprehensible." The stranger seems to be a member of explorer Hendrick Hudson's (Dutch reference to Henry Hudson) crew. Hudson discovered and sailed up the river that is named after him. The Dutch folk in the story claim that Hudson and his crew return to the Catskills every 20 years to "keep an eye" on the river they discovered and love. The fancy-hatted "commander" at the revel site might be Hendrick Hudson.
Curious about the elderly stranger, Judith Gardenier approaches Rip, carrying a baby in her arms. Struck by the young woman's appearance and manner, Rip questions her about her parents and learns that Judith is his now-grown daughter—and that it has been 20 years since he disappeared up the mountain with his rifle and his dog.
Peter Vanderdonk is a descendant of a historian of the same name. His ancestor had written an early account of the region's history, which Vanderdonk says confirms that Hendrick Hudson (Dutch reference to Henry Hudson) and his crew return there every 20 years to play at ninepins and revisit the river they discovered.