What are the plot, rising action, crisis, climax, and falling action of this story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving is an American classic that many a reader has enjoyed. The setting of this tale suggests that rural beauty and comfort exist there; however, a ghostly headless horseman is rumored to haunt this area.


The narrator describes the lovely, desultory valley in which the story is set. While many migrate to the state of New York, they go past by this "pastoral site" founded by the Dutch. The area is, thus, much unchanged since it was first discovered. The residents have a penchant for all kinds of superstitions, but the "dominant spirit" that haunts the region is a Hessian trooper who rides on horseback without his head. At night, he rides forth to the scene where he lost his head during some nameless battle of the Revolution. However, his haunts are not confined there; he goes to adjacent roads, but he must always return to the church-yard before dawn.

Into this area, Ichabod Crane from Connecticut has come to be the schoolmaster. His last name befits him as he is very tall and lanky, with narrow shoulders and long legs and arms. His hands dangle from his sleeves, and when he walks, he resembles a scarecrow. His head is small, and it sits upon a "spindle neck."

During the school day, Crane is very strict; however, after school, he becomes "wonderfully gentle on the boys." He is also inclined to visit with the mothers, bouncing a baby on his lap. The narrator describes him as "[O]ur man of letters," who "was peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels." Further, Ichabod carries with him "the market of human gossip," and he fills his head with "Mather's book" and wives' tales with which to entertain the wives as he bounces their young on his knees. On his way home, the superstitious Ichabod is "beset by Satan" as he imagines "fearful shapes and shadows." 


When Ichabod plays psalms, one of his "musical disciples" is Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a wealthy Dutch farmer. She is a young woman, pleasing both for her plump beauty and for her "vast expectations," as her father has a marvelous farm. After Crane visits the Van Tassels' mansion, "the conquest of his heart is complete." Unfortunately, there is a rival for Katrina's affections, Brom van Brunt, whose physical structure contrasts greatly with that of Ichabod Crane's. He is broad-shouldered and athletic. He is "foremost at all races and cock-fights"; with his strength, he is the umpire in all arguments and fights. But for all his brawniness, there is "more mischief than ill-will" in his makeup.


Nevertheless, Crane is faced with a formidable adversary against whom he must compete for Katrina. But, he is plucky and has perseverance when he foresees bountiful meals in his future. Under the guise of being the singing-master, Crane visits the farmhouse and flirts surreptitiously with Katrina. Brom plays many a practical joke on Crane to run him off, but Ichabod is determined in his pursuit of Katrina.


Ichabod Crane receives an invitation to a "quilting frolic" to be held at Mynheer Van Tassel's. During the day Crane hurries his students through their lessons and dismisses the children an hour early. Wishing to appear the cavalier, Ichabod Crane rents a horse, but the "errant-knight's steed" is a broken down plow horse. Nevertheless, Crane is gallantly dressed, and he sets forth in search of adventure on the back of old Gunpowder. As he jogs along, Crane delightfully views the bounty of the Van Tassel's farm. Once there, Ichabod eats and dances and joins the story-tellers.

The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman.

Brom Bones claims to have challenged this headless horseman one night. As his horse Daredevil began to beat the goblin-horse, they came to the church-bridge and "the Hessian bolted and vanished in a flash of fire." Crane matches these stories with tales from Cotton Mather and incidents from Connecticut. The party ends, and Ichabod lingers, believing he can woo Katrina. But, he soon departs with a desolate look on his face.

On his dark ride home at the "witching time of night," Ichabod Crane recalls all the stories he has heard of ghosts and goblins. And, as the night darkens, Crane's imagination ignites, and he fears that he is being chased by the Hessian in search of his head. When he hears the galloping hooves of his pursuer's horse, fear strikes Crane; he urges old Gunpowder on, and he comes down on the horse's backbone so hard he fears he will be knocked apart. After some slipping from side to side by the saddle, the entire thing falls off the bony horse. But, Crane gives Gunpowder a "convulsive kick in the sides" and the old horse springs onto the bridge, sending the saddle behind them. Desperately, Crane clings to the old horse as he hears the black steed snorting in his wake. "Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him." Ichabod tries to dodge this horrible cranium, but he falls and tumbles into the dust while Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin race past him "like a whirlwind."


The next day when the children come to the schoolhouse, Master Crane is nowhere to be seen. The brook is searched, but no one finds a trace of Ichabod Crane. On Sunday there is much speculation. Some think Ichabod has been carried off by the Galloping Hessian. But, since he is a bachelor, the congregation do not trouble themselves about him. The schoolhouse becomes deserted, too, and "is reported to be haunted by the ghost of the former pedagogue."


At times a young boy passes the old schoolhouse and reports that he hears a voice in the distance, singing a "melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow."

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A brief plot summary of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is that an outsider (Ichabod Crane) enters a Dutch American enclave in upstate New York and decides that instead of being the community's teacher, he would like to marry the daughter (Katrina Van Tassel) of a wealthy Dutch farmer and live off the inherited wealth. However, the man widely assumed to be her future husband (Brom Bones) scares off the outsider with a frightening prank and reclaims his girlfriend.

The rising action of the story is realized through Ichabod's growing realization that the Van Tassels are very wealthy and that a marriage to Katrina would provide him with an affluent and leisurely life. Ichabod presents himself as a scholar and a cosmopolitan to impress the locals and gain acceptance in their society, though he is not Dutch American, as are all the others in the community. He works to ingratiate himself. 

The crisis grows as Brom Bones begins to see Ichabod as a genuine threat to his own planned marriage to Katrina. Ichabod plans to ask Katrina to marry him.

The climax occurs on the evening that Ichabod attends a party at the end of the summer.  After an evening of dancing, feasting, and drinking, he intends to propose to Katrina but loses his chance. Late that evening, Brom Bones succeeds in scaring off Ichabod by appearing to him as the Headless Horseman.

The falling action occurs as Ichabod's disappearance is noted by the townspeople who conjecture that he has been taken away by supernatural forces; this becomes a local legend, and Brom and Katrina eventually marry. 

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Enotes has a link to a very good summary that will answer each part of your question. See the link below.

accrider32 | Student

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" follows the story of outsider Ichabod Crane, a school teacher that takes a job in a Dutch American settlement, who wishes to trade in a life of working for one of affluence and leisure. He meets  Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a local, wealthy farmer, and tries to woo her as a potential suitor in pursuit of his dream lifestyle. However, Brom Bones, another suitor, devises a plan using an old ghost story of a headless horseman to scare of Crane and reclaim his position as sole suitor to Katrina.

The rising action occurs with Ichabod realizing that Katrina comes from a wealthy family. He presents himself as a scholar and as a member of high society. He begins to integrate into the community, even though he is not Dutch, which causes Brom to consider him as a threat to his own marriage proposal.

The climax occurs at an autumn party. Ichabod has decided to ask for Katrina's hand in marriage, while Brom has devised a plan to scare off the would-be suitor. During the festivities the three engage in eating, drinking and dance. Brom shares several ghost stories that entertain the crowd, including Katrina, and Ichabod loses his chance to propose. 

Returning from the party that night, a distraught Ichabod's imagination turns to Brom's stories, especially of the Headless Horseman. The Horseman suddenly appears and chases Ichabod over an old Dutch bridge, throwing what is to be believed his head.

The falling action picks up with the next day and Ichabod's strange disappearance. All that is left is the school teacher's old horse wondering around and Ichabod's crumpled hat. The town believes the Headless Horseman took Ichabod that night. Brom marries Katrina, and offers a sly smile anytime the story of Ichabod and the Horseman comes up.

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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