drawing of the headless horseman holding a pumpkin and riding a horse through the woods

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

by Washington Irving
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What is the main conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

The main conflict in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, as the two men fight for Katrina Van Tassel's hand in marriage. In thematic terms, the main conflict is between superstition and reason.



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The clearest conflict in the story is between Ichabod Crane and his love rival, Brom Bones. Each man are determined to make the eligible Dutch heiress Katrina Van Tassel his wife. But as only one man can win her hand in marriage, it's inevitable that there will be some kind...

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The clearest conflict in the story is between Ichabod Crane and his love rival, Brom Bones. Each man are determined to make the eligible Dutch heiress Katrina Van Tassel his wife. But as only one man can win her hand in marriage, it's inevitable that there will be some kind of conflict between the two suitors.

As subsequent events will prove, Brom Bones is prepared to go to extensive means to get what he wants. He knows that Ichabod, an avid reader of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft, is highly superstitious. He exploits Ichabod's superstitious nature by dressing up as a headless horseman and driving him out of town. He may have done this to eliminate the competition, but the story suggests that Ichabod's chances of marrying Katrina were already negligible by this point.

The Headless Horseman's pursuit of Ichabod Crane also entails another conflict, the thematic conflict between higher reason and superstition—in this case, an irrational belief in ghosts, ghouls, and witches. Ichabod may be an educated man—a teacher no less—but his reason is in serious conflict with his superstitious nature. Unfortunately for Ichabod, superstition eclipses reason as he flees in terror from what he genuinely believes to be the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. In both of the main conflicts in the story, Ichabod is on the losing side.

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