Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Irving’s version of this folktale features an effective series of starvation images that begins with his lengthy description of the gaunt, cadaverous Ichabod and extends to the almost physical hunger that his protagonist feels when he sees the rich produce of Van Tassel’s land. Indeed, Ichabod’s mouth waters as he contemplates this wealth and dreams that it might be his.
Complementing the starvation imagery is Irving’s choice of names. Ichabod is tall and as gaunt as the crane whose name he shares. Like the biblical Ichabod, Irving’s protagonist is as much an outcast as is his Old Testament namesake. Similarly, Brom, whose given name is Abraham, is as much a patriarch of his people as is the father of the tribes of Judah.
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Sleepy Hollow. Small Dutch community in New York, near Tarry Town (now commonly known as Tarrytown) and the Hudson River. Sleepy Hollow has two main characteristics. The first is a sense of “listless repose” that settles over the land and the inhabitants. This drowsiness fosters the other characteristic, the enhanced imaginations and superstitions of its inhabitants. For example, its inhabitants speculate that an Indian chief’s powwows or a German doctor’s enchantments might be the causes of the strangeness in the area.
Residents of Sleepy Hollow enjoy sitting by their fireplaces and telling one another tales of ghosts. Washington Irving attributes the hauntings and tales to the fact that this is a long-established Dutch community whose families remain there generation after generation. Chief among the ghost stories are those about the Headless Horseman, the main specter in the tale, who is often seen around the old church, where he was supposedly buried without his head.
Throughout most of the tale, natural surroundings convey mood. During the daylight hours, Sleepy Hollow is bright and cheerful. On the fall day that schoolteacher Ichabod Crane heads for the Van Tassel farm, the trees are bright orange, purple, and scarlet. Ducks fly overhead. Quail and squirrels can be heard. However, when Ichabod returns home at night, the scene changes. He passes by a tulip-tree whose limbs are “gnarled and...
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The Dutch in New York
In its earliest days as an outpost for Europeans, New York was settled by the Dutch, or people from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Henry Hudson, referred to in ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' as ‘‘Master Hendrick Hudson,’’ sailed in 1609 from present-day New York City to Albany, up what the Dutch called the Tappan Zee, and what is now called the Hudson River; the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York City commemorates this today. Hudson was British by birth, but was working for the Dutch East India Company, and after his explorations the Netherlands claimed what is now New York as its own territory. The first Dutch settlers arrived at present-day New York City in 1624. Although the territory eventually came under British and then American control, the Dutch people were still numerous and influential throughout New York in Irving's day.
As with any ethnic group, stereotypes of the Dutch were abundant. They were said to be jolly, prosperous, well-fed, and foolish. Irving had poked fun at Dutchmen in A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, whose fictional author was Diedrich Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker is supposedly the source of this story as well, and the stereotypes are used to comic effect in the characters of Baltus Van Tassel, his daughter Katrina, and their superstitious and somewhat pompous neighbors. It should be said that there were also widespread...
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There is an almost dizzying number of levels of narration and narrators in ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'': a) Washington Irving is the author of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ; b) Geoffrey Crayon is the fictional author of the volume, the one responsible for collection or creating the stories and sketches; c) Diedrich Knickerbocker is the character who supposedly wrote down ‘‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’’ and in whose hand the postscript was ' found,'' presumably by Crayon; d) the legend was told to Knickerbocker by a ''pleasant, shabby, gentlemanly old fellow’’; e) within the legend, the characters tell stories that they have heard or read, many of them concerning ''a figure on horseback without a head.'' Ichabod Crane, then, is a man who is frightened by a story within a story within a story within a story.
The narrators are not only numerous, but also unreliable. Knickerbocker claims that he has repeated the legend ' 'almost in the precise words in which I heard it related‘‘—a ridiculous claim considering the length of the story, the amount of description, and the fact that he heard it only once. The ''gentlemanly old fellow’’ makes a great pretense in the beginning of his narration of telling the truth, pointing out that he has heard an explanation for the name ''Tarry Town,'' but he will not ''vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise...
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Compare and Contrast
1810: Irving's home town, New York City, is a major metropolitan center with a population of 80,000. The population of the United States is 7,239,881.
1990: The population of New York City is 7,322,564.
1810s: Women's bodies are thought to be attractive if they are, like, Katrina Van Tassel's,' 'plump as a partridge.'' Many women think it is vulgar to be thin enough that the shape of their bones is revealed.
1990s: Women are expected to be thin. Defined cheekbones are a mark of beauty.
1810s: Few people in a rural village are educated enough to teach school. Most people are not able to read and write. Therefore, teachers come from outside, often from the cities.
1990s: Adults who cannot read or write have great difficulties managing daily life.
1810s: Veterans of the American Revolution are still alive, and enjoy telling true and exaggerated war stories at social occasions.
1990s: Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts tend to keep quiet about their experiences.
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Topics for Further Study
Find a few of the many illustrated versions of ' 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' in the children's section of the library, or some of the video or filmstrip versions. Compare the pictures of Ichabod Crane in these versions with Irving's descriptions in the text. How precisely does Irving describe Crane? How closely do the pictures match your own vision of Crane's appearance?
Find a copy of ‘‘The Castle of Indolence,’’ a poem from 1748 written by the Scottish poet James Thomson. Why might Irving attached four lines of this poem to his own story? What do the two pieces have in common?
Research the status of African Americans in New York during the end of the eighteenth century. Analyze Irving's casual disrespect for the ' 'Negro'' characters in his story in terms of how his contemporary readers would have responded to it, and in terms of how modern readers might respond.
Closely examine the passages in which Irving describes food in lingering detail. Based on the modern food pyramid, how healthy was the diet of wealthy Dutch farmers in the late 1800s?
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''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' has been recorded by Donada Peters as part of a five-hour set of audiotapes titled Rip Van Winkle and Other Stories. The set is distributed by Books on Tape, Inc. The story is also available on audiocassette as a musical dramatization that has received excellent reviews. Produced by Reed Publishing USA in 1993, it is part of the Carousel Classics collection.
The story is also available on videocassette. Tales of Washington Irving (1987) is a videocassette release of animated films made in 1970. Distributed by MGM/UA Home Video, the 48minute tape contains ‘‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’’ and ‘‘Rip Van Winkle’’, and features the voice talents of Mel Blanc and other familiar stars. Another videotape, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, uses human actors and sets the story in a recreated early American-Dutch settlement. Published by Guidance Associates, it is designed to motivate students to read the story.
Among the many film versions, two deserve special note. Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a 52minute film starring Ed Begley, Jr., and is distributed by Trimark. Scheduled for a November 1999 cinema release is a major motion picture, Sleepy Hollow, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane.
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What Do I Read Next?
Rip Van Winkle’’ (1819) is the second of the two stories for which Irving is famous today. Rip Van Winkle wanders off into the Catskill mountains to escape his wife's nagging, plays ninepins with a group of dwarfs, and sleeps for twenty years.
‘The Spectre Bridegroom, A Traveller's Tale’’ (1819) is another story from Irving's Sketch Book. A young girl is loved by two men, one from her own rural area and one from a faraway city. Although it is set in Germany, this story of competition, pranks and the supernatural is instructively like and unlike ' 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’’
The Life of Washington Irving (1935) by Stanley T. Williams is a two-volume biography, notable for its thoroughness and for the strong sense Stanley creates of thoroughly disliking his subject.
Davy Crockett's Narrative of the Life of David Crockett (1834) is a collection of tall tales, many of them about Crockett himself but also including stories of other rugged outdoorsmen outsmarting Eastern men from the cities.
''The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg'' (1900) is a humorous tale by Mark Twain. A stranger uncovers the secret corruption of smalltown America by promising unearned wealth to some of Hadleyburg's important citizens.
The Dark Way: Stories from the Spirit World (1990), edited by Virginia Hamilton, contains twenty-five stories from Italy, Kenya, Russia, the United States and other countries, featuring the...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bowden, Mary Weatherspoon. Washington Irving, Boston: Twayne, 1981, p. 72.
Giamatti, A. Bartlett. The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966, pp. 3, 6, 34, 126-27.
Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 18021832, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965, p. 142.
Hoffman, Daniel G. Form and Fable in American Fiction, New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.
. ‘‘Irving's Use of American Folklore in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,'’’ in PMLA, Vol. 68, June, 1953, pp. 425-435.
Jeffrey, Francis. Review of The Sketch Book, in Edinburgh Review, Vol. 34, August, 1820, pp. 160-76.
Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975, pp. 68-70.
Leary, Lewis. ' 'Washington Irving and the Comic Imagination, '' in The Comic Imagination in American Literature, ed.
Louis D. Rubin. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1973, pp. 63-76.
Martin, Terence. ‘‘Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination,’’ in American Literature, Vol. 31, May, 1959, pp. 137-149.
Pataj, Edward F. ‘‘Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane: American Narcissus,’’ in American Imago, Vol. 38, Spring, 1981, pp. 127-35.
Plummer, Laura, and Michael Nelson. '‘‘Girls Can...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bowden, Mary Weatherspoon. Washington Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Good introduction to Irving’s work. Bowden examines the first edition of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” within the context of its place and importance in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Hedges seeks to substantiate Irving’s relevance as a writer, define his major contributions, and detail aspects of his intellectual environment. The work presents “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as proof that Irving was a pioneer in the renaissance of American prose fiction.
Roth, Martin. Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington Irving. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976. This study surveys Irving’s American period of creativity, including “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” demonstrating that his last experiment creates a comic vision of America.
Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Critical revisionist view of Irving and his work primarily seen in psychological terms. It dissects Irving’s personal problems and political orientation as reflected in his writings, particularly in a substantive...
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