In his 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s main character is the town school master, Ichabod Crane, a tall, lanky man whose meager allowance was compensated for by the opening of many of the town’s doors to his presence for a week at a time. Irving describes Ichabod as having succeeded in being accepted into Sleepy Hollow by virtue of his willingness to be a friend to all and to help those he could. Among his attributes, noted by the author, was his sense of justice and fair play when disciplining the children in his charge. Rather than punishing the smaller, weaker children the same way he would the larger, stronger and more trouble-prone ones, he would go easy on the former and hard on the latter:
“. . . he administered justice with discrimination rather than severity; taking the burden off the backs of the weak, and laying it on those of the strong.”
Ichabod’s charms were not limited to his reputation for fairness and compassion for the weaker children. As Irving writes, he would exhibit certain mercenary characteristics in befriending the older boys:
“When school hours were over, he was even the companion and playmate of the larger boys; and on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers . . .”
Ichabod’s attention to matters of the heart is a recurring theme in Irving’s descriptions of his protagonist, and the school master is portrayed almost as a lothario, albeit one living in the early-19th Century Dutch colony where the story takes place. Irving is more descriptive, however, in explaining Ichabod’s popularity with the town’s adults:
“. . . he had various ways of rendering himself both useful and agreeable. He assisted the farmers occasionally in the lighter labors of their farms; helped to make hay; mended the fences; took the horses to water; drove the cows from pasture; and cut wood for the winter fire. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dignity and absolute sway with which he lorded it in his little empire, the school, and became wonderfully gentle and ingratiating. He found favor in the eyes of the mothers, by petting the children, particularly the youngest; and like the lion bold, which whilom so magnanimously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole hours together. In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing-master of the neighborhood . . .”
In short, Ichabod Crane is anything but an innocent and naïve school teacher. As described by Washington Irving, he is calculating and manipulative – but in a good sense. He is not a native of the town, and has adopted those mannerisms necessary to ingratiate himself into the public’s bosom.