The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Summary

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is the tale of Ichabod Crane, who accepts the position of schoolteacher in the haunted Hudson Valley town of Sleepy Hollow. 

  • Ichabod soon takes an interest in Katrina Van Tassel. He intends to marry her, gain access to her fortune, and use it for his personal gain. 
  • Ichabod hears stories about the Headless Horseman, a Hessian soldier said to have lost his head in a nearby battle.
  • Ichabod attends a party where he dances with Katrina. Walking home after, Ichabod is pursued by the Headless Horseman. Ichabod flees Sleepy Hollow and is never seen again.

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Summary

(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 meadowlands, the rich wheatfields, and the rye, buckwheat, fruit, and Indian corn that will be his if he can win Katrina’s hand. Once married to Katrina, he could invest in large tracts of land. He can even imagine Katrina with a whole family of children, setting out with him for promising new territories in Kentucky or Tennessee. It is, however, the sumptuous comfort of the Van Tassel home that makes him realize that he must have Katrina.

Winning Katrina,...

(The entire section is 2,610 words.)