In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," how is the description of setting in paragraph 7 important to the development of the passage's central theme of America's changing history?

The description of setting in paragraph 7 of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is important to the theme of America's changing history in that it depicts Sleepy Hollow as a "drowsy" place caught in the past while great "currents" of change go on around it. The village's superstitions and inhabitants represent a European past that holds back the new United States and must be expunged. The robust, masculine, and practical Brom Bones represents the future.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

America's first home-grown ghost story, Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow " is set in a part of the United States and in a time in its history that never seem to change. The location of the story is Sleepy Hollow, New York, a quiet valley—"one of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

America's first home-grown ghost story, Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is set in a part of the United States and in a time in its history that never seem to change. The location of the story is Sleepy Hollow, New York, a quiet valley—"one of the quietest places in the whole world"—about two miles from the small port town of Tarry Town, on the eastern shore of the Hudson River.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was written at a time that the newly-formed United States was still undergoing a revolutionary change into a country that was separate and distinct from its colonial past. Sleepy Hollow is a living time capsule, wholly isolated from that change. Nothing seems to have changed in the bucolic valley from the time the Dutch settled there in the early 1600s until the 1790s, the time in which "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is set, and the people of Sleepy Hollow like it that way.

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys ... that population, manners, and customs remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.

Ghost stories, superstitions, myths, and legends like that of the Headless Horseman remain relatively constant in a changing world and keep the history and customs of a place like Sleepy Hollow alive.

In much the same way that the inhabitants of the valley, and of the colonies as a whole, resist the interference of the British in their lives, the people of Sleepy Hollow resist the changes that are affecting the new country, and they resist the interference in their way of life by the lanky Connecticut schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane.

The people of Sleepy Hollow come to tolerate Ichabod and gradually accept him into their community, but Ichabod never ceases looking at Sleepy Hollow and its inhabitants as anything other than an outsider. Ichabod is reminded of his "outsider" status when his advances are rejected by "the blooming" Katrina Van Tassel.

Ichabod disappears from Sleepy Hollow after his horrifying encounter with the Headless Horseman. What emphasizes the essentially unchanging nature of Sleepy Hollow and its people is that any influence or change that Ichabod brought to the valley and its inhabitants faded away in time and are all but forgotten, but Ichabod himself was assimilated into the myth and legend of the Headless Horseman, where he remains to this day.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The grand conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is between European superstition and American practicality. The former is represented in both the character of Ichabod Crane and Sleepy Hollow itself. The seventh paragraph gives the reader a description of Sleepy Hollow which characterizes it as almost frozen in time:

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are like those little nooks of still water, which border a rapid stream, where we may see the straw and bubble riding quietly at anchor, or slowly revolving in their mimic harbor, undisturbed by the rush of the passing current. Though many years have elapsed since I trod the drowsy shades of Sleepy Hollow, yet I question whether I should not still find the same trees and the same families vegetating in its sheltered bosom.

Take note of the adjectives Washington Irving uses here: "peaceful," "retired," "fixed," and "drowsy." This paints Sleepy Hollow as the sort of place where little changes. This includes not only the families living there or the trees towering over them but the mindset of the community. The text further likens Sleepy Hollow to nooks of still water bordering a stream: that is, history is happening everywhere but Sleepy Hollow.

None of this is meant to praise Sleepy Hollow. The community's unwillingness to move on with the times is presented with satirical flair rather than nostalgic longing. Even Crane, whose tyrannical behavior towards his students and belief in the ghost stories told by the local housewives paints him as an extension of Sleepy Hollow's backward ways, allegedly becomes a better and more successful man once he flees to a distant part of the country.

Ultimately, Irving's intention in the seventh paragraph is to set up this tension between the European "old world," as represented by Ichabod and the townspeople, and the "new world" of the United States, represented by Brom Bones.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The theme Irving explores pits an old, backward looking, superstitious, and European mindset against the vigorous, practical, and commonsensical ethos of the new United States.

To understand paragraph 7, we have to understand the context around it. The narrator has just been discussing the legend of the headless horseman and the dreamy superstitions that have grown up around it in the area. In this context, he describes Sleepy Hollow as backwards looking, serene, "undisturbed," and "drowsy." By doing so, he is explaining how its people can be so superstitious at a time of hard-headed change in a vigorous new country. Right after this, he will begin to describe Ichabod Crane, an effeminate, superstitious, "European" man who is easily susceptible to the story of the dead Hessian haunting the countryside.

Irving is not being complimentary to Sleepy Hollow in describing it as he does in paragraph 7 as a land time forgot. It is not good, in his mind, for the village to have stay "fixed" while great "torrents" of change go on.

Irving identifies this complacent, backwards mindset with the creepy Ichabod Crane. Crane, the schoolmaster, beats the children while charming the ladies, who flock around him to hear his superstitious folktales from Europe. He courts Katrina because he wants her money, not because he loves her.

Crane is pitted against the strong, masculine, robust, practical, and forthright Brom Bones, who uses Crane's superstitions against him to frighten him out of town with a fake headless horseman. Crane represents the remnants of effete European ways that must be expunged from Sleepy Hollow and, by implication, the new United States as a whole, if it is to achieve greatness. Brom is the hope of the future.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving is very careful to clearly indicate his opinions about the idea of change, and of places that stay the same, in paragraph 7. He describes a peaceful place and then elaborates that it specifically gets to be peaceful because it is unchanged by the forces of industrialization or shifting populations. He even describes restlessness as a root cause of these changes, which isn't a particularly forgiving take.

Irving goes on to create an extended simile out of this idea, likening Sleepy Hollow to the calm places around the edges of running water, which swirl and bubble at their own rhythms, unaffected by the rushing currents nearby. This paragraph clearly creates tension between the ideas of old ways and new ways, a perfect frame for the theme of America's changing history.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team