Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” represents Irving’s second comic masterpiece, a ghostly tale about things that go bump in the night. The specter in question here is the mysterious Headless Horseman, said to be a Hessian trooper who lost his head in a nearby battle. Each night he roams the countryside in search of it. The unlikely hero in this tale is Ichabod Crane, an itinerant schoolmaster, whose name suits him perfectly: “He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together.”
Irving opens his tale with a marvelous and evocative description of the lush, charming Hudson Valley region of Sleepy Hollow near Tarry Town, the delightful and dreamy atmosphere pervading the place, and the tale of the Hessian trooper’s ghost that supposedly roams near the churchyard. He then introduces the reader to Ichabod, a poor Connecticut Yankee who is very interested in marrying the wealthy, lovely, and flirtatious Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of the richest man in the area.
Ichabod’s plan is to ingratiate himself into her life, winning her hand in marriage. He arranges to teach her psalmody and is therefore permitted to visit Katrina on a regular basis at her family’s prosperous farm. His interest in Katrina, however, is less than honorable. Ichabod wants to acquire her hereditary wealth and sell it off. His chief rival is a brawny local named Brom Bones, who loves Katrina for herself. The two men despise each other; Irving adroitly contrasts Yankee opportunism with Dutch diligence. Ichabod attends a party given by Katrina’s father one night and later, on his way home, meets the terrifying Headless Horseman (Brom Bones in disguise), who drives the superstitious victim out of Sleepy Hollow forever.
(The entire section is 771 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Ichabod Crane is a newcomer to the Hudson Valley; unlike the generations of Dutch settlers that have preceded him, he has neither the strength nor the means to become a farmer and landowner. His single marketable skill is teaching, and in the isolated hamlet of Sleepy Hollow this pays meager rewards. His schoolhouse is decrepit, one large room constructed of logs; its broken windows have been patched with the leaves of old copybooks. Ichabod’s quarters are whatever rooms the neighboring Dutch farmers who board him for a week at a time are willing to provide. Ichabod thus makes the rounds of the neighborhood, and his small salary, combined with his constantly changing address, allows him to store all of his personal possessions in a cotton handkerchief.
Because he comes from Connecticut, a state whose major product is country schoolmasters, Ichabod feels both superior to the old Dutch stock of the valley and frustrated by his perpetual state of poverty. He compensates for the former by regularly caning the more obstinate of his little charges and for the latter by doing light work on the neighboring farms. He further supplements his income by serving as the local singing master, instructing the farm children in the singing of psalms. Never missing a chance to curry favor with the local mothers, Ichabod always pets the youngest children “like the lion bold” holding the lamb. In short, his single goal is self-advancement, and though he has merely “tarried” in Sleepy Hollow, he clearly will remain if his prospects improve.
Ichabod cannot rely on his looks or strength to advance him, so he cultivates a circle of farmers’ daughters, particularly those from the more prosperous families, and impresses them with his erudition and vastly superior tastes. He has, indeed, “read several books quite through,” among them Cotton Mather’s account of witchcraft in New England. He believes even the strangest of these tales; indeed, he frightens himself so much when he reads them that he is startled when he hears a bird or sees a firefly. He is, in other words, completely naïve and suggestible. The local tale of the Galloping Hessian who rides headless through the woods of Sleepy Hollow particularly alarms him. A snow-covered bush in the half-light is enough to convince Ichabod that he has seen the headless horseman.
One of Ichabod’s music students is Katrina Van Tassel, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a prosperous Dutch farmer. She is “plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches.” She also, as her...
(The entire section is 1055 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Near Tarrytown on the Hudson River is a little valley populated by Dutch folk that seems to be the quietest place in the world. A drowsy influence hangs over the place and people so that the region is known as Sleepy Hollow, and the lads who live there are called Sleepy Hollow boys. Some say that the valley is bewitched.
A schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane arrives in the valley, looking like a scarecrow because of his long, skinny frame and his snipelike nose. As is customary, Crane circulates among the homes in Sleepy Hollow, boarding with the parents of each of his pupils for one week at a time. Fortunately for him, the valley’s larders are full and the tables groan with food, for the schoolmaster has a wonderful appetite. He is always welcome in the country homes because in small ways he has contrived to make himself useful to the farmers. He takes care to appear to be patient with the children, and he loves to spend the long winter nights with the families of his pupils, exchanging tales of ghosts and haunted places, while ruddy apples roast on the hearths.
The main figure said to haunt Sleepy Hollow is a man on horseback without a head. The villagers speculate that the specter is the apparition of a Hessian horseman who lost his head to a cannonball; whatever it may be, the figure is often seen in the countryside during the gloomy winter nights. The specter is known to all as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
A fan of the writings of Salem Witch Trial chronicler Cotton Mather and a believer in ghosts, haunts, and spirits of all description, Ichabod is often filled with fear as he walks home after an evening of storytelling. His only source of courage at those times is his loud and nasal voice, which makes the night resound with many a sung psalm.
The schoolteacher picks up a little extra money by holding singing classes. One student who captures his fancy is the plump and rosy-cheeked Katrina Van Tassel. She is the only child of a very substantial farmer, a fact that contributes to her charms for the ever-hungry Ichabod. Since she is not only beautiful but also lively, she is a great favorite among the lads in the neighborhood.
Abraham Van Brunt—Brom for short—is Katrina’s favorite squire. Known for his tall and powerful frame, the locals have taken to calling him Brom Bones. A lively lad with a fine sense of humor and a tremendous amount of energy, Brom scares away Katrina’s other suitors. Brom Bones is a formidable rival for the gaunt...
(The entire section is 1027 words.)