The legend of Sleepy Hollow- LITERATURE Analysis

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Washington Irving is known as a great observer of people and customs. He is the first professional fiction writer in the history of American literature.  He was a sharp observer since his born. He was a son of a wealthy merchant of New York and had a good financial background, and he also was the youngest child among 11 children. He made numerous trips to Europe. He gives rise to two main types of literature in American history, the historical novels and legendary regional ends. He is responsible for his novel’s promotion and evolution. He has also earned the reputation of pioneering continental romanticism and Gothic mode in American literature. He brings the usage of common American tradition and comic mythology of pure American Character through his writing skills. Extraordinary achievements of Irving and his contribution in American literature rests on the shoulders of Brom and Ichabod Crane from his famous writing in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. His second famous writing piece is “Rip Van Winkle”, and both stories were inspired by German folklore to local New York settings, American culture and with Dutch American Farmers (Hoffman 459). Irving was also responsible for the introduction of romanticism in American literature. Romanticism has nothing to do with first romance. Though it had some element of romance but its movement in Europe and America which represented how people perceive their surrounding environment towards romanticism. Its strong centers were Germany and England from where Irving got his inspiration to introduce this movement into America.

Irving’s story starts from a folk society which is in New York a retired Dutch village. Its manners, population, and customers remaining fixed. When a torrent of immigrants moves into the village and starts reformations to bring improvement. They are also bringing constant changes in the society while the rest of the part of the country is still unobserved. Ichabod Crane comes in the story from Connecticut. He was once a farmer, a master of singing and a teacher. He is a jack of all trades in the story who can perform a lot of work. The schoolteacher Ichabod Crane falls in love with Katrina Van Tass whose father is a prosperous farmer. Crane loves her, but at the same time, he loves her wealth. There is one person who was an obstacle on his way of getting Katrina was Brom Van Brunt who is an excellent horseman, ready to fight and has a muscular body. Ichabod has nothing to with the thoughts of Katrina for her; he is more interested in the wealth of her father and the lands. She is, on the other hand, is more interested in Brom Bones. Crane fails to impress her, but when she rejects him, he moves away like a disappointed person. The story explains the ambition of Crane which points out towards American Manifest Destiny. Washington Irving explores the disingenuous thought of democracy in immigrants through the portrayal of Ichabod Crane, an outcast individual who is vicarious by the prospect of a patriarchal notion that subdues him throughout the story.

The Headless Horseman signifies the townspeople’s trauma and state of paralysis. The Headless Horseman is the hessian topper, and the most dominant spirit of the town of Dutchman was a man without head riding on horseback. It is also known that he is riding a horse at night and hunt the people in the sleepy hollow for the searching of his head. Irving mentions, “It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war; and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk, hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind” (Irving 07). There is a belief that this ghost is a wandering soul of a Hessian soldier who died in the American revolutionary war. He is often seen passing through the villages at a breakneck pace near the Church. Townspeople’s believe that Hessian is searching for his lost head. For this very reason, he is known to be The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Townspeople’s and the older men still have fresh memories of the war. There are many people in the sleepy hollow claims to see him in the night, and the ghost of a hessian topper is very scary who rides the horse without his head. There are common fallacies that Headless Horseman’s ghost is hired to kill rebellious Americans, and this hessian topper likely to be killed while he was serving to their masters. People are so scared that they always hesitate to go out at night which shows the townspeople’s trauma and state of paralysis. In addition, the head signifies logic and the body signifies emotion. Since the Headless Horseman is missing his head, his action is motivated by his emotions, just like the townspeople. Daniel Hoffman argues, “The mythology of war blends with that of the other world, lending credence to the supernatural” (Hoffman 431). The story of the headless horseman has a reputation of tethering the horse, haunting the church and chasing the travelers which explain the blend of supernatural elements in sleepy hollow. Townspeople constantly afraid of the headless horsemen and have trauma with the head finding stories which not let townspeople move on and give them a state of paralysis. 

The women originate and perpetuate the ghost stories, at the same time, men reiterate those stories as their own embedding and their own masculine touches, which shows the feminism aspect of the original story. The women create the stories as a manner by which to demonstrate their social worth, but the men overpower the female characteristics by manipulating the stories. The stories are spread over the mouth through people to people in the village and the original versions of the story got manipulated by men to empower their masculine power. Irving Implies, “yet daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in spite of the devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman” (Irving 13). The women always make the stories to show they are no different than men. Their stories always have women touch of witches and goblins as an aspect of women empowerment, but as storytelling got manipulated by men to show the aspect of men domination. In the story, it is mentioned that women created the aspect of storytelling and how men tried to add their own spin of exaggeration and masculine empowerment through manipulating the story. The writer has taken the story of depiction and show how complex the life of women is. He also shows how important for women to improve their social worth, but they are not being credited enough for the stories that perpetuated.  Plummer and Nelson argue, “While male storytelling is the part of the will to compete and conquer, Storytelling for the women of Sleepy Hollow moves beyond self-image to counter that male will” (Plummer and Nelson 179). This illustrates that women attempt to demonstrate their social worth and voice-sound-through storytelling.  In consideration of their inferior position as a consequence of the male prerogative, they attempt to counter the perspective impose on them by a patriarchal society.  The author also highlighted this in her article that the women honestly deserve the credit for developing stories in a selfless manner.  Storytelling in Sleepy Hollow is originally from the depiction of women that eventually get foreshadowed by male masculinity who always manipulate the stories.

Brom Bone’s exemplifies traditional masculine behavior. Brom Bones is depicted as a true manifestation of masculinity who believes in brute force, actions and not on dreaming. He also has a true masculine figure who attracts women in the town of sleepy hollow. Bone is very well known for his charm, strength, and impressive horse riding. Ichabod Crane has no comparison in front of Brom Van Brunt who is a hero around the country and a wealthy enough to marry Katrina. Irving discuss, “Brom, who had a degree of rough chivalry in his nature, would fain have carried matters to open warfare, and have settled their pretensions to the lady according to the mode of those most concise and simple reasons, the knights-errant of yore—by single combat; but Ichabod was too conscious of the superior might of his adversary to enter the lists against him” (Irving 21).  Irving describes Brom’s personality that he is known in the community for possessing physical skills and everyone like him for his jokes. He engages himself in some practical jokes, he is always ready to engage in a scuffle if invited, play dual. Brom is quite harmless despite huge muscle and strength and liked by people of the town who also ignore his immaturity. On the other hand, when it comes to Ichabod Crane, he is more of the knowledgeable type of man. Ichabod enjoys reading books and music, which currently were more feminine in dominant areas. The feminine in Ichabod is superstitious, trembling, unmanly and gullible. The story unwillingly accepts the naive side of the female character in the Sleepy Hollow. Plummer and Nelson argue, “storytelling is also a part of male imperialism. Of the numerous tales that circulate through the sleepy hollow, those told by men concern their own fictionalized exploits” (Plummer and Nelson 179). Brom Bones always tells his side of the Headless Horsemen’s story that how he encounters with the headless horseman, and how heroically he faces him. His actions advocate for the prominence of the masculine identity and the diminishment of the female identity. He silences the women through manipulating the stories and shows how normal male like him faces the supernatural. Brom Bones is a representation of masculinity and known for his heroic attempts in the sleepy hollow. The townspeople adore and look up to him, as well as other girls. He is in the race to win Katrina’s hand against Ichabod Crane “outsider”. He is also the ideal candidate for a girl during this time as a strong, charming, and confident whereas Ichabod was never shown to have valiant efforts. He was tall had long arms and narrow shoulders but possessed a slim body. Ichabod was weak which was a disadvantage for him if he competes with Brom.

Ichabod in the story is a manifestation of a man who is ambitious and wants to climb the stairs of success quickly and develops a rivalry on the way. Ichabod came from Connecticut; he left his hometown to accept the position of a school teacher in the sleepy hollow. He was a tall man with long arms and big ears. He represents the logic and reasoning power of a man but weak physically. Once, Ichabod had a tour of Katrina’s farm and he realizes how rich and wealthy they are. Ichabod believes that he is entitled to the land, and he will use Katrina as a vehicle to attain his desire. She is just a commodity for him. Irving describes, “The pedagogue’s mouth watered, as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind’s eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy” (Irving 15). He had desired to improve his status in society. He met Katrina Van Tassel who was a beautiful and flirtatious daughter of a rich Dutchman. Her father possesses vast lands and had a good income. Ichabod wanted to marry Katrina to improve his status as a wealthy man and his intention towards her were less than honorable. The writer demonstrates the true nature and desire of Ichabod Crane. He is merely a greedy and self-deprived person, who seeks nothing but fortune and higher social status in the sleepy hollow region. It is also mentioned that how Ichabod flows and issues within himself, and what the essence of masculine imperialism is in the town of sleepy hollow. Plummer and Nelson argue, “They embody the essence of masculine imperialism: War, Fortune, haunting, and squirrel hunting are all expressions of the same will to conquer” (Plummer and Nelson 177). This quote emphasizes that male imperialism have many parts, and one of them is storytelling. There is a number of stories circulated in a sleepy hollow which are told by men. the sager folks sit together and gossiping about war stories and haunting stories to show men’s own fictionalized exploits at Van Tassel’s farm. Ichabod also sits with women and listens to their ghost stories especially related to the Headless Horseman, and in return, he tells the stories of witchcraft to scare women which shows Ichabod’s true conquest which is to conquer all. Ichabod ’s own imperialism is mentioned through his greediness and self-driven opportunities. Ichabod only wanted to gain access to a massive fortune earned by Katrina’s father through her so that in future he could use the fortune for his benefit in the future. To achieve his ambition, he develops a rivalry with a local howdy Brom Bones.

Ichabod’s departure signifies the townspeople’s state of paralysis. Everyone has the same question that what happened to Ichabod Crane after that night. No one really knows whether he is going to come back or not and what happens to school now. It is shown that what is the importance of Ichabod’s knowledge in the sleepy hollow.  Irving implies, “These magic books and the poetic scrawl were forthwith consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who from that time forward determined to send his children no more to school; observing, that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing. Whatever money the schoolmaster possessed, and he had received his quarter’s pay but a day or two before, he must have had about his person at the time of his disappearance” (Irving 38). After Ichabod disappeared, Hans Van Ripper who housing the Ichabod crane burned the schoolhouse and copies of Mather’s witchcraft, and not to send his own children to school, “observing that he never knew that reading and writing is how much important for his own good”. Sooner the schoolhouse closing becomes a symbol of the departure of Ichabod Crane. It is known that Ichabod is still alive somewhere in New York and tell the story of his own. Some townspeople also believe in the story that Brom Bones played a prank on him, and that is the only reason that Bones can marry Katrina. Some women believe that he was taken by the ghost of the headless horseman. Now the story of the helpless schoolmaster become famous in the town which shows the townspeople’s state of paralysis. Daniel Hoffman argues, “Metamorphosis is always magical, but now, in an egalitarian society, the magic is the power of self-reliance, not of Satan” (Hoffman 429). This quote signifies that Being self-reliance is more important in a democratic society. Ichabod is a symbol of fear and ambition as per the context of American democracy, but Ichabod is also self-reliance which makes him a folk hero. Townspeople are afraid that Ichabod possesses a high level of knowledge and music skills which makes him in the position to become a more famous ghost. There are many townspeople claims that they were being hunted by the helpless schoolmaster who once haunted by the headless horseman and this story continue to spread across the sleepy hollow. It signifies that being able to change is possible, but the way you do it can bring its consequences. Ichabod crane struggled with being an ‘outsider” and wanted to be accepted in the sleepy hollow.

Washington Irving is the first professional fiction writer in the history of American literature. His story starts from a folk society which is in New York a retired Dutch village. Its manners, population, and customers remained fixed. A torrent of immigrants into the area and reformations to bring improvement are bringing constant changes in the society while the rest of the part of the country is still unobserved. Irving explores the idea of democracy through one of the main characters Ichabod Crane, an outcast individual who is degraded by the idea of a patriarchal manifest that subdues him to the overall story. Ichabod was a school teacher who fell in love with Katrina who was the only daughter of wealthy Dutchman. He was willing to marry her to gain access to her father’s wealth. Brom Bones, Ichabod’s main rival. Bones represents masculinity and a war hero. However, Ichabod represents Knowledge and music. The novel is an exciting tale with some social implications including gender equality. The writer took side with Katrina and brome by explaining that a real man always defeats a dreamer. 

Works Cited

Hoffman, Daniel G. “Irving’s Use of American Folklore in’ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow“,PMLA, Vol.68, No.3, June 1953, 425-435, JSTOR,

 Irving, Washington, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Elegant eBook,

Laura, Plummer, and Michael Nelson. “Girls Can Take Care of Themselves’: Gender and storytelling in Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’”, Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 30, No. 2, Spring 1993, 175-184,  Academic Search Complete,