What is the author's purpose in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?

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sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While a fun and entertaining story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has many layers and many interpretations. This story is part of a larger book entitled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman. Irving uses this fictional gentleman as the "collector" of a number of humorous stories and retellings of old legends.

The narrator is this story is the fictional Diedrich Knickerbocker, a scholar invented by Irving to tell the story of Dutch people in America. Knickerbocker satirizes the Dutch, poking fun at their lifestyles and behaviors, and Irving uses the persona here to do just that. Irving is doing more than just telling an old tale.  The tone of the story is full of irony and sarcasm. Ichabod Crane is a ridiculous figure, overly superstitious, full of his own importance, and at odds with the people of this rural town. He is a greedy man, hungry for food and for wealth, which is why he sets his eyes on the local girl Katrina Van Tassel. He admires her not only for her looks but "more especially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion." Ichabod is an outsider looking to take advantage of the rural people, but he gets run out of town by his own superstition. Brom Bones, Ichabod's rival, is a stereotype of the all-brawn country guy, so much so that he is described as possessing the "gentle caresses and endearments of a bear."

The sense of irony is reinforced in the postscript, where we see that Knickerbocker is telling this story of the country from the city of Manhattan. The narrator clearly thinks the story is a joke, saying to his audience, "Faith, sir . . . As to that matter, I don't believe one-half of it myself."

So while Irving is entertaining us all, he is also poking fun at the lifestyles of the American people. He takes away any belief we may have had in the ghost story and leaves us with a fun story about an arrogant teacher and the popular town guy who scared him off.

mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When an author writes, they usually have a specific purpose in mind.  The purpose can be to inform, to entertain, or to persuade the reader.  In the case of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving's purpose was to entertain the reader.

We know that the author's purpose is to entertain because The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a narrative.  It tells the story of Ichabod Crane and the events leading up to his encounter with the Headless Horseman.  His flight from the Headless Horseman is then described in a narrative format.  The story contains few facts, which shows the reader that the purpose is not to inform.  The story also does not seek to persuade us of a specific message, which shows that Irving's purpose was not persuasive.

Near the end of the narrative, Irving writes that Ichabod's story is an "account of [a] ghostly adventure."  This is textual evidence which describes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a "ghostly adventure," proving that the purpose would be to entertain.

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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