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The story begins about five or six years before the American Revolution and ends twenty years later. The action takes place in a village in eastern New York, near the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains. The river was named after Englishman Henry Hudson, who explored it in 1609. The Catskill Mountains were named after Kaaterskill, the Dutch word for a local stream, Wildcat Creek. The Catskills contain many other streams, as well as lakes, waterfalls, and gorges.
From the beginning, Washington Irving uses personification to invest the Catskill Mountains with human qualities. Irving tells us in Paragraph 1 that they are part of a “family,” the Appalachian family. And they are a proud, majestic member of that family, “lording it over the surrounding country.” They are also active rather than passive, reacting to the weather and the seasons with changes in their “magical hues and shapes.” In fair weather, “they are clothed in blue and purple.” But sometimes, even though the sky is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
Making the mountains come alive enables them to become mysterious and unpredictable; they may even play tricks on those who venture within their confines.