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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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Characters

The main characters of “Sleepy Hollow” are Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel, Abraham Von Brunt, and the Headless Horseman,

  • Ichabod Crane is a hapless and superstitious schoolteacher and a newcomer to Sleepy Hollow.
  • Katrina Van Tassel is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Dutch farmer; Ichabod wants to marry her.
  • Brom Bones, whose real name is Abraham Van Brunt, is Katrina’s other suitor and is known for his strength.
  • The Headless Horseman is a Hessian soldier who, according to local lore, haunts Sleepy Hollow.


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Ichabod Crane

Ichabod Crane is the main character in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He is described as physically “crane-like,” as his name suggests. Like the bird, he is tall and lanky, with a small head and “spindle neck.” He is also described by the narrator as easily mistaken for a scarecrow.

Ichabod is a schoolmaster from Connecticut. He is well-read and considered a “man of letters” in Sleepy Hollow. He is not a harsh ruler over his schoolchildren, the narrator stresses, but instead “administer[s] justice with discrimination rather than severity,” accounting for different students’ strengths and weaknesses. After school hours, Ichabod serves as a companion for the older boys. He walks the younger boys home on holidays, but this is not because he is selfless. In particular, he sets out to walk children home who have attractive sisters and mothers or whose families are known for serving good food. For those Sleepy Hollow residents who view schooling as too much of a financial burden, Ichabod manages to charm them, too, by assisting farmers and watching over children. He has become a pillar of the community in many ways.

As the schoolmaster, he plays a prominent role in the “female circles” of the town, meaning he is considered learned and gentlemanly by the women surrounding him. Even more, he is a well-respected singer and dancer, drawing an audience for both talents. Townspeople flock to him for singing lessons. In keeping with the whimsical and dreamlike nature of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod firmly believes in witchcraft and the supernatural. He is something of a local expert on Cotton Mather’s writings on witchcraft in New England. In addition to sharing tales from Mather, he also enjoys listening to the local legends spun by the hollow’s Dutch inhabitants. These tales leave him fearful and wary of hearing things go bump in the night.

Throughout the story, Ichabod is characterized as having quite the appetite. He enjoys eating and marveling at the food that surrounds him. The Dutch delicacies are of particular interest to him, as is the promise of farmland. Relatedly, Ichabod is in pursuit of Katrina Van Tassel, one of his students in psalmody. He admires her beauty but even more so her wealth. Though up against the much burlier Brom Bones, Ichabod remains comparatively brave, bold, and balanced. He carries his head high and does not back down in the wake of Brom’s strength. His fascination with wealth and charming the people around him could certainly be considered his downfall. After all, if he only seeks Katrina’s hand for her money, this paints him as quite a shallow man. Though his fate after the encounter with the Headless Horseman remains unknown, there is no doubt that Ichabod’s story has been absorbed into the ghostly tales of Sleepy Hollow.

Katrina Van Tassel

Katrina is the eighteen-year-old daughter of Baltus Van Tassel, a wealthy farmer. She stands to inherit her family’s land. Katrina is “plump as a partridge” and considered quite a catch, “not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectation.” In other words, she is known for her promised inheritance. Katrina, being highly sought after, is described as a coquette—a flirt. Ichabod thinks of her as “so tempting a morsel,” as if she is a treat to be won. Throughout the story, she entertains both Ichabod and Brom Bones as suitors.

Brom Bones

Abraham “Brom” Van Brunt, nicknamed “Brom Bones” for his burly appearance, is Ichabod’s rival in pursuit of Katrina. Brom is “Herculean” in frame, powerful, and an impressive sportsman. If Brom and Ichabod were in a physical altercation, Brom would...

(This entire section contains 808 words.)

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certainly best Ichabod. He is described as mischievous, which comes into play at the end of the story. Brom appears to be quite smitten with Katrina, unlike Ichabod, who is fascinated mainly by her wealth. When it is presumed that Brom has won Katrina’s heart, it is also implied that Brom knows something about Ichabod’s encounter with the Headless Horseman. Whenever the story is told, he laughs at the mention of the smashed pumpkin. Perhaps this points to Brom’s mischievous nature playing a role in Ichabod’s sudden disappearance.

The Headless Horseman

Of all the tales and ghost stories in Sleepy Hollow, the legend of the Headless Horseman is the most infamous. This spirit is that of a Hessian trooper who lost his head to a cannonball in the Revolutionary War. He is rumored to gallop to and from the old church where he is said to be buried, searching for his head. Not far from the church is an old road and bridge, covered by overhanging trees. The spot is gloomy in the daytime and darkened by night: this is a favorite haunt of the horseman. Many in the region claim to have encountered him.