Describe the use of literary elements such as point of view, irony and tone in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'.

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The point of view is that of the fictional character Diedrich Knickerbocker who claims to have heard the story from an old gentleman. Knickerbocker's account in turn is presented by the fictional collector Geoffrey Crayon, who has put together the Sketch Book, the volume in which this story appears. Therefore there are several narrative layers to this story, which has a certain distancing effect on the actual events and characters; they are presented at several removes. 

This distancing effect is increased by the ironic, or more specifically mock-heroic tone employed in the narrative. Ichabod Crane is cast as a gallant lover, or would-be lover who faces a fearsome challenge from a rival. He is described in terms comparable to epic heroes of old, like the Greek warrior Achilles. However, the point is to deflate Crane's pretensions and ambitions and to ironically emphasise the point that he is actually an unattractive figure who motivated not by the grand desires and passions of the old heroes but simply by greed; he wants to marry Katrina van Tassel on account of her wealth. 

The light-heartedly mocking tone in regard to Crane is often evident, for example when Crane is invited to the van Tassels' and treated to a wonderful feast:

Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero, as he entered the state parlour of the Van Tassel's mansions. Not those of the bevy of buxom lasses, with their luxurious display of red and white: but the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea-table, in the sumptuous time of autumn. 

This 'hero' is portrayed here in a wholly comic light, attracted to the 'charms' of the tea-table rather than to female beauty; he ignores the 'buxom lasses' in order to concentrate on the eatables. In the same vein, the narrator goes on to describe the splendours of this table at length.

The ironic tone of the narrative undercuts the supposed heroic and romantic aspects of the tale.This is the narrator's strategy throughout, which renders the piece essentially comic - despite the gothic overtones of Cane's terrified flight from what he takes to be a ghost.

The story, then, does not take itself very seriously, and Crane appears as a dupe, to be laughed at rather than sympathised with. 

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