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 main conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

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The main conflict in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, as the two men fight for Katrina Van Tassel's hand in marriage. In thematic terms, the main conflict is between superstition and reason.



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The clearest conflict in the story is between Ichabod Crane and his love rival, Brom Bones. Each man are determined to make the eligible Dutch heiress Katrina Van Tassel his wife. But as only one man can win her hand in marriage, it's inevitable that there will be some kind...

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of conflict between the two suitors.

As subsequent events will prove, Brom Bones is prepared to go to extensive means to get what he wants. He knows that Ichabod, an avid reader of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft, is highly superstitious. He exploits Ichabod's superstitious nature by dressing up as a headless horseman and driving him out of town. He may have done this to eliminate the competition, but the story suggests that Ichabod's chances of marrying Katrina were already negligible by this point.

The Headless Horseman's pursuit of Ichabod Crane also entails another conflict, the thematic conflict between higher reason and superstition—in this case, an irrational belief in ghosts, ghouls, and witches. Ichabod may be an educated man—a teacher no less—but his reason is in serious conflict with his superstitious nature. Unfortunately for Ichabod, superstition eclipses reason as he flees in terror from what he genuinely believes to be the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. In both of the main conflicts in the story, Ichabod is on the losing side.

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What is the conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" takes place at a time when the United States had only recently achieved its independence. Washington Irving's stories often describe a setting that exists half in the old world and half in the new. There is a sense that the past has been shaken off but that there are remnants of it that persist in the minds of the people. In Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," the title character himself, a relic of the past awakened into the new world, symbolizes this division.

In "Sleepy Hollow," the past is represented by the legend itself, a supposed ghost of a Hessian soldier from the War of Independence. The Revolution is over and the British and their Hessian allies have been defeated, but this figure haunts the imagination of the residents of Tarry Town. The Hollow is a magical place that holds its power over people's minds in spite of the Enlightenment and the new, soon-to-be mechanized world that is emerging. So the elementary conflict is between past and present and between superstition and modern, enlightened belief.

Another conflict is an ethnic one. In a setting where people of Dutch descent are dominant, Ichabod Crane is an outsider, the Other, as strange as that may seem, given his Anglo-Saxon background. Brom is the insider, and it seems natural that Katrina should prefer him to the awkward, less physical, bookish man Crane appears to be. When Crane is scared off by the supposed headless horseman, he seems to be getting his comeuppance for thinking that Katrina could accept him.

Yet Crane could be seen as a representative of modernity. He is a new type of man, not relying on brawn and not adhering to the clannish attitudes of the past that would presumably make him unsuitable for Katrina simply because of his ethnicity. The fact that America was to eventually become the proverbial "melting pot" in which at least the different European nationalities were soon to blend together indicates that although Crane has lost the battle, his side of the conflict will win the "war," if that's what it is. Old and new, past and present, brawn versus brains, and tribal versus unified are all elements of conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

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What is the conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

Aside from the obvious conflict between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, there are a number of other conflicts at work in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. First, the beliefs of the very town are in conflict with the larger region, as those in the town subscribe to various superstitions, including that of the Headless Horseman. Irving comments on the discrepancy, going so far as to say that when outsiders come to Tarrytown

they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.

Within Ichabod himself is also the conflict between his fondness for supernatural tales and their effects on his imagination. Washington writes of Ichabod's enjoyment of ghost stories:

But if there was a pleasure in all this, while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner of a chamber that was all of a ruddy glow from the crackling wood fire, and where, of course, no spectre dared to show its face, it was dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk homewards. What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! With what wistful look did he eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window!

Ichabod himself is conflicted between the enjoyment he gains from ghost stories, and the way in which they wreck havoc with his imagination. Further, more conflicts manifest themselves in Ichabod's very character. He is said to have "a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his character." This shows up in his pursuit of Katrina Van Tassel, but also in his constant opportunism. Ichabod is not a teacher because he wishes to help the youth of the developing country. Rather, he is a teacher because it presents him with meals, places to stay, and the admiration of some, but not all. It is in this final point that another conflict can be found: the friction between the school and the town. While Ichabod was in Tarrytown, education was given a certain level of esteem. However, Washington Irving's personal disdain for schooling manifests itself in his portrayal of the selfish, opportunistic Ichabod. Additionally, even though Ichabod was held in high regard by most of the town, after he disappears his books were

consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who, from that time forward, determined to send his children no more to school, observing that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing.

These are just a few of the many conflicts that Irving presents in his story. The entire tale is comprised of ambiguities and conflicts, which is perfect given the ambiguity surrounding the fate of the conflicted Ichabod.

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What is the conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

The main plot conflict in this story is between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones over the lovely Katrina. Both men want to marry this young woman. She can only pick one to be her husband.

Ichabod Crane is an outsider and scholar who comes to teach in the village school. He is effete and superstitious whereas Brom is manly and openhearted. Crane wants to marry Katrina for the wrong reasons: he lusts after her family wealth. Brom, in contrast, loves Katrina for herself.

In the climax of this classic trickster tale, Brom uses his wits and pragmatism to defeat his rival. He scares Crane away by playing on his superstitious fears when he creates a dreaded "headless horseman" with a pumpkin.

This outward conflict highlights the differences between the robust ways of a new young country, exemplified in Brom, and the backward-looking sensibility of Crane's more European mindset.

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What is the conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has two main conflicts. These conflicts present themselves as stark contrasts. The first conflict is found in the contrast between the bustle of the city, and the openness of the countryside. These two settings, and the connotations they have, are at odds with each other throughout the novel. The second conflict is represented by the two main male characters in the novel. It is the conflict between brains and brawn. Both of these conflicts are dealt with and enhanced by Irving's wonderful use of imagery.

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What types of conflicts occur in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

The most obvious external conflict in the story is that between Ichabod Crane and Bram Bones. Both men want the same girl, Katrina van Tassel, which inevitably creates considerable tension between them. But as someone who wants nothing more than an easy life, Ichabod is not prepared to fight Bram over Katrina, which ironically only makes Ichabod rise in Katrina's esteem.

So Bram has to try an alternative to direct confrontation if he's to get Ichabod out of the way and leave the field open to himself. And this is where Ichabod's main internal conflict enters into the picture, for Ichabod is a deeply superstitious man who believes in all kinds of spooky legends and ghost stories. Bram plays upon this by disguising himself as the Headless Horseman in an attempt to drive Ichabod out of town.

Somehow Ichabod needs to overcome his deep-seated superstition if he's to remain in town and continue paying court to Katrina van Tassel. Marrying Katrina holds out the prospect of a comfortable, easy life for Ichabod, something he cherishes more than anything else in the world. But he won't be able to lead such a carefree existence if he succumbs to superstition and allows the Headless Horseman to drive him out of town.

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What is the gender conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

The gender conflict in this story is based around Katrina Van Tassel wanting to do everything she can to keep both of her suitors hanging on without discouraging either of them. It is significant that it is this strategy of hers that brings Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones into conflict with each other, as both vie for her attentions and Brom, because Ichabod refuses to fight him, is forced to resort to playing a series of practical jokes on Ichabod with hilarious consequences. Katrina seems to be portrayed as a female who is cast in the mould of a "hard to get" beautiful woman, and this is something that causes conflict with both of her suitors, and indeed with the storyteller himself, the narrator who regales the reader with this tale. Note what he says about courtship:

I profess not to know how women's hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle and admiration.

Women therefore are portrayed in this short story as enigmatic mysteries who are not able to be understood by their male counterparts, and both Brom and Ichabod fall foul of trying to understand the mystery of Katrina Von Tassel and woo her successfully. This, as the narrator goes on to establish, would be no mean feat, because to woo a "coquette" successfully is definitely a real challenge:

He who wins a thousand common hearts is therefore entitled to some renown; but he who keeps undisputed sway over the heart of a coquette is indeed a hero.

Gender conflict in this short story therefore lies in the attemps of the male characters to engage the affections of a female who is something of a "coquette" and who is determined to ensure that neither of her suitors is discouraged. The view of women as being mysterious and "hard to get" is one that is obviously shared by the narrator, who, in his own words, find them impossible to understand.

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In "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, what is the source and nature of the conflict for the protagonist?

It would seem that there are two problems that conflict Irving's protagonist named Ichabod Crane. The first problem is the fact that Crane allows himself to get caught up in the superstitions of the area that he moves into which is a colonial Dutch village. The second problem is that he is romantically interested in Katrina Van Tassel who has another suitor by the name of Bram Bones. The source of the first problem originates in the the areas surrounding Sleepy Hollow. Irving describes it as an enchanted place; but, the matter isn't helped any as the people relate all of the scary and spooky tales to Ichabod who then believes them because of the superstitious book that he had brought with him and continued to read. The superstitious conflict and the romantic conflict converge as Bram eggs Ichabod on at a party one night with the story of the Headless Horseman. Another incident  that follows is the fact that Katrina seems to reject Crane after the party that night. The townspeople theorize that Crane must have met with said headless horseman because his hat is found on the ground and he is never seen or heard from again. Possible mysticism, the superstitious book, and Crane's own foolery seem to be the source of his problems which are eventually resolved by rivalry and rejection.

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