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what is the subject of Washington Irving's satire in sleepy hollow?

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ssammmmix3 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 9, 2011 at 8:31 AM via web

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what is the subject of Washington Irving's satire in sleepy hollow?

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yaday | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:44 AM (Answer #1)

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 Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleep Hollow" satirizes, the supposedly, refined culture of city folks through the character, Ichabod Crane.  Ichabod Crane comes from Connecticut as a refined and educated man in search of a teaching position in the village of Sleepy Hollow; however, he is unaware that the town is "given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air."  Right here, conflict between city and rural life is aired to the reader: the mood of the village atmosphere is set which will, eventually, contribute to Crane's downfall.  Though educated, Ichabod is a true believer of the supernatural and is supersititious because he " was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s history of New England Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed."   By mentioning this, Irving points out Crane's flaws:  too much knowledge can lead to false logic and misbelief.    

Though various folktales and legends have been told through the generations of the village, they are considered to be only heresay.  Unfortunately, outsiders, like Crane take them to heart.   During the annual Van Tassel gathering, folks got together and shared stories:  

"All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod."   

Here, the gullibility of the educated city man is shown despite these stories being what they are:  stories.   

Though it's the headless horseman that goes after Crane, his demise occurs because of his true belief of these stories:   

 "All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon, now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal."   

Irving points out how false belief contributes to logic and forces uneasiness upon the individual. From the start of the story, Irving makes clear of the division of the city outsider to that of the rural country folks by the inclusion of Ichabod's character.  Since his arrival, he had been marked, as seen by the numerous pranks played on him by Brom and the boys.   The belief of the legends and folks tales further establishes how the city folk can create realistic supernaturalism despite really being heresay.   On a side note, Irving's influence for this story comes from German folklore which may suggest the division of Europeans and Americans as seen by the mistreatment of Ichabod's character.   

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