What is the conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?
Aside from the obvious conflict between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, there are a number of other conflicts at work in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. First, the beliefs of the very town are in conflict with the larger region, as those in the town subscribe to various superstitions, including that of the Headless Horseman. Irving comments on the discrepancy, going so far as to say that when outsiders come to Tarrytown
they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
Within Ichabod himself is also the conflict between his fondness for supernatural tales and their effects on his imagination. Washington writes of Ichabod's enjoyment of ghost stories:
But if there was a pleasure in all this, while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner of a chamber that was all of a ruddy glow from the crackling wood fire, and where, of course, no spectre dared to show its face, it was dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk homewards. What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! With what wistful look did he eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window!
Ichabod himself is conflicted between the enjoyment he gains from ghost stories, and the way in which they wreck havoc with his imagination. Further, more conflicts manifest themselves in Ichabod's very character. He is said to have "a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his character." This shows up in his pursuit of Katrina Van Tassel, but also in his constant opportunism. Ichabod is not a teacher because he wishes to help the youth of the developing country. Rather, he is a teacher because it presents him with meals, places to stay, and the admiration of some, but not all. It is in this final point that another conflict can be found: the friction between the school and the town. While Ichabod was in Tarrytown, education was given a certain level of esteem. However, Washington Irving's personal disdain for schooling manifests itself in his portrayal of the selfish, opportunistic Ichabod. Additionally, even though Ichabod was held in high regard by most of the town, after he disappears his books were
consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who, from that time forward, determined to send his children no more to school, observing that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing.
These are just a few of the many conflicts that Irving presents in his story. The entire tale is comprised of ambiguities and conflicts, which is perfect given the ambiguity surrounding the fate of the conflicted Ichabod.