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.
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 fantastic” and a “group of oaks and chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape vines,” that throws a “cavernous...
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Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
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...
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