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 resolution of the conflicts in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

The resolution of conflicts in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" occurs when Brom Bones builds a fake headless horseman to frighten the superstitious Ichabod Crane into fleeing the town forever. By doing this, Brom gets rid of his rival for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel.

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The primary conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is that between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones over Katrina Van Tassel, whom they're both determined to marry. This conflict will only be resolved when one man or the other finally becomes the undisputed favorite to make Katrina his bride.

Such a resolution eventually takes place when the scheming Brom Bones, disguised as the Headless Horseman, drives a terrified Ichabod Crane out of town. The highly superstitious Crane genuinely believes that he is being chased by an honest-to-goodness spook, as Bones knows full well. He also knows that if he can drive his rival out of town for good, then it's almost certain that the field will be clear for him to make Katrina Van Tassel his bride.

Once Crane disappears out of sight, never to be seen or heard from again, then the conflict between himself and Brom Bones is well and truly over. Through his wily cunning and ruthlessness, through his matchless understanding of Ichabod Crane's psychology, he has successfully played upon his rival's superstitious nature in order to get what he wants. The conflict has been resolved, and now the path towards Katrina Van Tassel is wide open.

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The main plot conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is the rivalry between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones for the hand of the lovely and wealthy Katrina Van Tassel.

Ichabod and Brom are polar opposites. Ichabod, the thin, effete schoolmaster, likes to surround himself with the ladies, whereas the vigorous, hearty, athletic Brom is a man's man and the leader of a male gang that like to pull pranks. Ichabod is superstitious and enjoys spending time by the fire with the old dames of the village, swapping ghost tales. Brom has no interest in old stories from the past. Ichabod very much wants to marry Katrina for her money, not herself. Brom loves Katrina for herself.

The conflict between Brom and Ichabod symbolizes a deeper conflict over the future of the young United States. Whose hands will that future be in: the effete, backward-looking European types wedded to tradition and the past or practical, hardworking, forward-looking men?

Brom turns out to be the classic trickster figure, and his wits resolve the conflict over who will win Katrina. Brom uses Crane's own superstitions against him. He builds a fake "headless horseman" and with it terrifies Crane so that he flees the town. This win also resolves the symbolic conflict of whose hands the future of the young country lies in: it lies with the pragmatic, vigorous, and forward-looking.

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Ironically, the resolution of the conflicts involves that which Ichabod initiates himself; namely, the interest in the supernatural.  And, it is with his character Ichabod Crane that Irving pokes fun of supernatural conventions and parodies the Romantic hero.

Although Ichabod, a native of Conneticut and the schoolmaster, becomes an authority of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft;  he utilizes this "appetite for the marvellous" as a means to appeasing his physical appetite by ingratiating himself with the old Dutch wives, listening to their tales of ghosts and goblins after they have fed him. But, on his walks home, Ichabod is fearful with the "terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness."

His interest in Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of a wealthy Dutch farmer, leads Ichabod to the Van Tassel farm where his fancy with food and plenty is captured. Thus, he essays to gain the affections of Miss Van Tassel.  However, there is a rival for Katrina's love:  Brom van Brunt, "the hero of the county round."  So, Ichabod disguises his advances upon Katrina by making visits as the singing-master, and he is very wary of his adversary, Brom, not affording him opportunities for combat. Nevertheless, Brom is able to stop up the chimney in the schoolhouse, and he and his friends turn things topsy-turvy.

When Ichabod Crane is invited to a party at the Van Tassels' he arrives on a horse that is the antithesis of Brom Bones's steed Daredevil.  At the party, more ghost stories are recounted; Brom claims to have defeated the Hussian in a race. This story and all the others that Ichabod has heard resound in his memory as he sets out for home.  Suddenly, Ichabod perceives the shadowy form of a horseman in the middle of the road; so, he urges his horse to run, but the other stays in step with him.  When the rider passes before the moon, Ichabod sees that he is headless, and that he carries his head upon the pommel of his saddle. As he attempts to flee on the back of old Gunpowder, the horse manages to cross the bridge, so Ichabod looks back. It is then that Ichabod realizes that the pursuing headless horseman is about to hurl his carried head.  Ichabod hurries, but is tumbled headlong into the dust.

The next morning the schoolmaster does not appear, nor is he ever seen again. A search party is formed, but only a large pumpkin and small bundle of Crane's is found. Tales of Ichabod Crane burgeon, tales that the headless horseman carried off Crane and the schoolhouse

was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue.... 

While Brom Bones laughs and gives a "knowing look" whenever the old country wives  mention Ichabod Crane, they, nevertheless, insist that Ichabod has been "spirited away by spiritual means."

Thus, the conflict between Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane is resolved by this disappearance of Crane.  In an ironic twist of fate, Crane becomes the object of his own interests:  He himself becomes a part of supernatural tales.

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