The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

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What happens in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?

Ichabod Crane leaves his home state of Connecticut to accept the position of schoolteacher in Sleepy Hollow. He soon takes an interest in Katrina Van Tassel, the charming, flirtatious daughter of a wealthy Dutch farmer.

  • Ichabod has less than honorable intentions toward Katrina. He intends to marry her, gain access to her large fortune, and use it for his personal gain. His rival, Brom Bones, loves Katrina for herself and competes with Ichabod for her hand in marriage.
  • As an outsider and a Yankee, Ichabod is unfamiliar with Sleepy Hollow's superstitions. He hears stories about the Headless Horseman, a Hessian soldier said to have lost his head in a battle not far from town. Gullible Ichabod believes the stories and becomes frightened.
  • Ichabod attends a party where he dances with Katrina. Afterward, the two speak in private, and Ichabod begins to suspect she's using him to make Brom jealous. While walking home after, Ichabod is pursued the Headless Horseman. Ichabod flees Sleepy Hollow and is never seen or heard from again.

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ichabod Crane is a newcomer to the Hudson Valley; unlike the generations of Dutch settlers that have preceded him, he has neither the strength nor the means to become a farmer and landowner. His single marketable skill is teaching, and in the isolated hamlet of Sleepy Hollow this pays meager rewards. His schoolhouse is decrepit, one large room constructed of logs; its broken windows have been patched with the leaves of old copybooks. Ichabod’s quarters are whatever rooms the neighboring Dutch farmers who board him for a week at a time are willing to provide. Ichabod thus makes the rounds of the neighborhood, and his small salary, combined with his constantly changing address, allows him to store all of his personal possessions in a cotton handkerchief.

Because he comes from Connecticut, a state whose major product is country schoolmasters, Ichabod feels both superior to the old Dutch stock of the valley and frustrated by his perpetual state of poverty. He compensates for the former by regularly caning the more obstinate of his little charges and for the latter by doing light work on the neighboring farms. He further supplements his income by serving as the local singing master, instructing the farm children in the singing of psalms. Never missing a chance to curry favor with the local mothers, Ichabod always pets the youngest children “like the lion bold” holding the lamb. In short, his single goal is self-advancement, and though he has merely “tarried” in Sleepy Hollow, he clearly will remain if his prospects improve.

Ichabod cannot rely on his looks or strength to advance him, so he cultivates a circle of farmers’ daughters, particularly those from the more prosperous families, and impresses them with his erudition and vastly superior tastes. He has, indeed, “read several books quite through,” among them Cotton Mather’s account of witchcraft in New England. He believes even the strangest of these tales; indeed, he frightens himself so much when he reads them that he is startled when he hears a bird or sees a firefly. He is, in other words, completely naïve and suggestible. The local tale of the Galloping Hessian who rides headless through the woods of Sleepy Hollow particularly alarms him. A snow-covered bush in the half-light is enough to convince Ichabod that he has seen the headless horseman.

One of Ichabod’s music students is Katrina Van Tassel, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a prosperous Dutch farmer. She is “plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches.” She also, as her father’s only daughter, has “vast expectations.” Though she is also something of a coquette, the prospect of her inheritance makes her seem to Ichabod a desirable bride, and he determines to win her.

Ichabod’s mouth waters when he contemplates the fruits of old Baltus Van Tassel’s land. He dreams of the fat...

(The entire section is 2,610 words.)