The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hallowby American author Washington Irving is the title of the short story being analyzed in this essay. It is one of short stories published in his collection titled, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. .First publication of this story was in 1820 when Washington Irving was living in Birmingham, England. The characters, main, are Katrina Van Tassel, Ichabod Crane, Baltus Van Tassel and Brom Van Brunt. The setting is in the countryside well-known for its haunting atmosphere and ghosts that permeates thoughts of its inhabitants. The story is about competitionbetween Ichabod Crane, a superstitious schoolmaster, and Abraham Van Brunt, to marry Katrina Van Tessel, the only child of Baltus Van Tassel. Cranes thinks that he will acquire Van Tessel’s vast wealth by getting married Katrina. At one point, crane and Brunt went to a party at Baltus Van Tassel’s homestead with the intention of proposing to Katrina. However, their intentions are ill-fated. Ichabod returns home down-hearted as he rides through purported haunted spots, imagining ghost stories narrated at the harvest party. He nervously passes under haunted trees where he encounters a rider whose head is on the saddle rather than on his shoulders. Ichabod mysteriously disappears from the countryside, leaving Katrina Van Tessel to wed Abraham. The first paragraph in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow notes that it is retrieved from writings of Diedrich Knickerbocker. Washington Irving applies such framing device so that his story will have an assertion to historical veracity and legitimacy (Irving, 1820).

The story’s setting is Tarry or Greensburgh town- a port town adjacent to a river that was referred to as Tappan Zee by the “ancient” Dutch sailors. Since the Dutch had only occupied North America for some time, the use of the word “ancient” makes the story to have an element of ring of legendary while also overstating the facts. The countryside is known as Sleepy Hollow because it has a calm atmosphere that pervades the whole valley. The town’s residents are descendants of Dutch settlers who believe that an old Indian doctor or German Chief had cast a spell. Inhabitants of sleepy Hollow tend to hear voices and see visions and they are also superstitious. Whenever there is a gathering, the residents tell horrifying narratives about Sleepy Hallow. Most narrated story is about a Headless Horseman who loves riding on horseback at night. It is claimed that the headless horseman comes out at night to look for his severed head and then disappears before dawn. This is an example of history, supernatural and authenticity merging into one. Main consequences of the revolutionary war are destruction of property and death. The residents narrated stories as a way of coming to terms with the consequences of war. Individuals who reside in the valley are not the only ones who see the headless ghost but also strangers who stay at the dreamy valley for a while and start paying attention to ghost narratives until they see such visions. Washington’s ghost story has some ambiguities- it is not certain if the valley is vulnerable to real apparitions and ghosts, or if the entire sleepy valley is more susceptible to such imaginations. Washington’s language where little exists creates a notion of history (Cook, 2008).

Ichabod’s physical qualities characterize him as being absentminded and dreamy. He associates with school children by either playing with them after school or accompanying them home. In the early times of the American republic, going to school was a non-issue. Most of the children were to inherit and work on their parents’ properties, it was tiresome for parents to decide between teaching children practical knowledge on how to work on the fields on one hand and book learning on the other. Ichabod is aware of this conflict of interest. As a result, he moves from one home to another to work on their farms in exchange for food and lodging. Although Ichabod is a strong believer in witchcraft and magic, he is also devious and astute. His appetite for horror stories makes him spends most of his quality time listening to stories till late into the night. This shows that Washington Irving used the language of consumption and appetite to refer to things other than food. Ichabod’s capability to “swallow”narratives assist in explaining the reasons why he was incapable of ridding himself of the stories. The sleepy hollow is not undergoing development like other places; instead the populace and the customs followed remain the same. The narrator can imagine to returning the village after being away for a very long time and still find people and their customs still the same. This idea of sleepy valley being a town with no history is paradoxical-as the spirits and ghosts expose, the valley was traumatized and influenced by the revolutionary war.


Cook, C. (2008). Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (A play in two acts). Authorhouse.

Greg, S. (2001). Supernatural Ambiguity and Possibility in Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The Midwest Quarterly, 42. (2) .

Greven, D. (2004). Troubling our heads about Ichabod: “The Legend of Sleep Hollow,” classic American literature, and the sexual politics of homosocial brotherhood. American Quarterly, 56(1), 83-110.

Irving, W. (1820). The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. New York: C. S. Van Winkle.

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