The Legend of Sleepy Hollow | Study Guide

Washington Irving

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow | Quotes


If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The narrator opens by giving his own impressions of the setting of the story he will be telling. Sleepy Hollow is described as an idyllic place, representative of the pastoral life of early America that will soon be replaced by a more industrialized United States. Sequestered, drowsy, and dreamy are other significant words Knickerbocker uses to describe the place.


The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The narrator has described the bewitched feeling of Sleepy Hollow and has characterized the inhabitants of the region as believing in magic and ghosts. He is now about to describe their most famous legend, known as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.


It is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The narrator again emphasizes the traditional rural feeling of the region and seems to clearly favor this lifestyle over the new way of life sweeping the country. As the story progresses, it will become clear that the people who settled the area are suspicious of outsiders such as Ichabod Crane and are described just as favorably by Knickerbocker as the place in which they live.


His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

Having described the physical appearance of Ichabod Crane—his small, flat head, huge ears, and long nose—Knickerbocker immediately provides this somewhat ominous image of Ichabod prowling through Sleepy Hollow. Indeed, Ichabod's greedy appetite for many things could be seen as a threat to the community.


His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The narrator establishes early on that Ichabod Crane is a believer in all kinds of stories, no matter how far-fetched, a trait that makes him a very good protagonist for a comedic horror story set in a place already described as bewitched.


How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him!

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The narrator lets readers know that not only does Ichabod Crane believe the ghost stories he hears, but he is extremely frightened at night as a result of regularly hearing them.


He would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the Devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The humor undergirding the story is very clear in this line, which also gives readers fair warning that romance will be a part of the narrative as well. Ichabod Crane is not just enchanted by the ghost stories of the region; he has fallen under the spell of Katrina Van Tassel, and it is this that will cause his real problems.


As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

What the greedy Ichabod Crane truly desires is the Van Tassel wealth. His appetite is not just for food but also for riches, those described here and in the next paragraph, which is about the Van Tassel house and its fine trappings.


He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

This description of Abraham Van Brunt, known as Brom Bones, shows him in a favorable light. Since he is clearly the opposite of Ichabod Crane and Ichabod's competitor for the hand of Katrina, readers can see a stereotypical "brawn vs. brains" male rivalry developing here.


He rode with short stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers'; he carried his whip perpendicularly in his hand, like a sceptre, and as his horse jogged on, the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

This description of Ichabod Crane riding on a broken-down horse to court Katrina Van Tassel is one of the most often quoted humorous descriptions in early American literature. Besides painting a clear image, it reveals how unaware Crane is of his unsuitability as any sort of fine candidate for wooing a desirable young woman.


On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!—but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!

Diedrich Knickerbocker

Ichabod Crane's terror reaches its greatest level when he is finally able to clearly see the shadowy figure that has been traveling with him as he makes his way home from the Van Tassels' house. The ghost stories he has heard, especially the tales of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, seem to be coming true.


Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash,—he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The climax of Ichabod Crane's terrible encounter is reached even as he has crossed the church bridge to the promised place of safety. The play on words cannot be missed—Ichabod Crane is struck in the cranium by the head of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow!


The stories of Brouwer, of Bones, and a whole budget of others were called to mind; and when they had diligently considered them all, and compared them with the symptoms of the present case, they shook their heads, and came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the Galloping Hessian.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

The inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow reach one possible conclusion about what has happened to Ichabod Crane, who is never seen again in those parts. They decide he is another victim of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, and his story is added to those told around fires at night.


It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper, and partly in mortification at having been suddenly dismissed by the heiress.

Diedrich Knickerbocker

A second possible conclusion about Ichabod Crane's fate is presented by the narrator because it is the opinion of the man from whom he heard the tale in the first place. It is supported by the fact that Ichabod Crane's rival in love, Brom Bones, likes to chuckle when recalling that a pumpkin was found at the site where Ichabod was supposedly struck by the head of the Headless Horseman. The Hans Van Ripper mentioned here is the owner of the horse Ichabod was riding that night.


'Faith, sir,' replied the storyteller, 'as to that matter, I don't believe one-half of it myself.'


The final lines of the story, in a postscript attributed to the "handwriting of Mr. Knickerbocker," add to the intended doubt surrounding the whole legend. Irving wants readers to wonder when and if stories can be believed at all.

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