Summery of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Introduction:

Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of the few early American short stories that is still widely read today.Most people are probably familiar with the story through the movie and television renditions of the story, the earliest of which was in 1922, a version called The Headless Horseman starring Will Rogers as the main character, Ichabod Crane. In 1949, Disney created its own version, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad with Bing Crosby narrating. This version, with its excellent use of visual symbolism, is fairly accurate, minus its lengthy chase scene.Tim Burton’s account of Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp, takes a different, darker approach with more head-chopping and less whimsical storytelling. Even some TV shows, like Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark, Wishbone and Charmed, have taken the basics of the story and adapted it into their own, up-to-date story lines.

Summary of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” tells the story of Ichabod Crane and his hapless attempt to win the heart and hand of Katrina Van Tassel in the context of a comical ghost story. Ichabod comes to Sleepy Hollow, New York, from his home state of Connecticut, to be the schoolmaster of the village. Sleepy Hollow is a small, very quiet town said to be under some kind of enchantment. Its residents all seem to move a little slower, daydream a little more, and be more prone to believe in the supernatural. Sleepy Hollow, maybe for that reason or maybe because its residents are almost all descended from its original Dutch settlers, has more than its fair share of supernatural occurrences, or at least stories of them.Sleepy Hollow’s most famous supernatural phenomenon is the ghost of the Headless Horseman, said to be a Hessian soldier who lost his head to a cannon ball during the Revolutionary War. The Horseman is seen most often riding by the church, where local historians say he was buried. He is believed to be always in search of his head. Ichabod is fascinated by this story, being especially interested (and prone to believe) in tales of the supernatural. Ichabod is a strict teacher but not a cruel one, doling out his punishment of the rod only to those who can handle it. Ichabod makes almost no money, and it is customary in the village for the farmers whose sons he teaches to feed and board him in rotation. Along with this, Ichabod makes some extra money teaching singing lessons he prides himself greatly on his magnificent voice. This arrangement keeps him employed and gives him many opportunities to hear ghost stories from the farmers’ wives and eat meals with the farmers’ daughters. He also has an insatiable hunger and a taste for the finer things.Katrina Van Tassel, a beautiful young woman of eighteen, is one of Ichabod’s students. She is also the only child of Baltus Van Tassel, one of the more successful farmers in the area. Ichabod is quickly taken in by her flirtatious charms, but it is when he first visits her father’s abundant farm that he considers himself truly in love with her, or at least her likely inheritance.He quickly sets out to win her hand in marriage, coming by the Van Tassel farm frequently to woo her. Ichabod is not alone in his attentions to Katrina, however. Her beauty, charm, and wealth have entranced many other men in the village, especially the formidable Brom Van Brunt, also known as Brom Bones. Brom is notorious for his boisterous personality, love of pranks, and great skill at horseback riding all of which make him something of a village hero.Brom has already scared off many of Katrina’s other suitors, but Ichabod is harder to shake, avoiding physical confrontation with Brom, which is Brom’s main method of intimidation. Without that option, Brom turns to his next best skill pranks. He fills the school house with smoke, trains a dog to follow Ichabod around howling, and sets many other pranks to frustrate and humiliate Ichabod.One day, a messenger comes to the schoolhouse to invite Ichabod to a party at the Van Tassels’. At this party, he apparently finds himself the best man in the house, and when the party is over he stays behind. For some reason, however, Katrina disappoints him. Ichabod leaves crestfallen.He finds the path home dark and eerily quiet. He tries to keep himself from getting too scared, but soon after he has passed the possibly haunted Major Andre’s tree, he sees a large, dark figure looming nearby. It does not respond to his call, but as he passes by, it starts to move and joins him on the path riding a large, dark horse. Ichabod is greatly disturbed and tries to shake off his pursuer, but he fails. Finally, he notices that the rider has no head on his shoulders; the head seems to be sitting on the saddle in front of the man. Ichabod tries to get his decrepit horse to run home as fast as it can, but he is not a skilled rider and the horse resists.They end up by the church, the scene of most of the stories of the Headless Horseman, and Ichabod races to the bridge where the ghost is said to disappear and not follow. Ichabod crosses the bridge and looks back, but he sees the Horseman, instead of disappearing, hurl his detached head at him. It knocks Ichabod off of his horse.The next day, Ichabod’s horse returns to its owner’s farm, but there is no sign of Ichabod. A search party finds hoof prints and Ichabod’s hat, with a smashed pumpkin left next to it. Ichabod is never heard from again in Sleepy Hollow, although later on it seems that he is alive elsewhere and has told his story. Some of the townspeople believe that Brom Bones pulled off a great prank—which put Brom in the final position to marry Katrina but the old women and local folklore maintain that he was taken by the Headless Horseman.

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Characters in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

Baltus Van Tassel:

Baltus Van Tassel, also known as Balt, is a thriving and contented farmer, father of Katrina, who is perfectly happy within the confines of his farm. He lives abundantly but not proudly.

Brom Van Brunt:

Brom, short for Abraham, is Ichabod Crane’s greatest rival in the fight for Katrina’s hand. He is boisterous, burly, and the hero of the area, known for his heroics and feats of strength, for which he earns the nickname Brom Bones. He is especially for skilled on horseback. He is mischievous, but he is often motivated by goodwill. He is most likely the one in disguise as the Headless Horseman.

Hans Van Ripper:

Hans Van Ripper is a choleric old farmer who is housing Ichabod Crane at the time of the Van Tassels’ party. He lends Ichabod the horse on that fateful night.

Ichabod Crane :

A native of Connecticut, Ichabod Crane comes to Sleepy Hollow to work as a schoolteacher and singing master. His erudition and skill at singing are disputed only by the narrator. He is tall and extremely thin with a huge appetite and a certain amount of greed. He uses the rod as his preferred method of disciplining his students—but only on those strong enough to bear it. He is especially interested in ghost stories and the supernatural, because he believes in it. His attempt to woo Katrina Van Tassel fails just before he meets the headless horseman, who is most likely Ichabod’s primary competition in disguise.

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Katrina Van Tassel:

The only child of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel, Katrina is eighteen and universally known for both her beauty and her riches. She is also a flirt, and she always dresses to show off her best features. She is one of Ichabod Crane’s singing students, and she is the object of his desires. Just at the point when Ichabod thinks he has won her over, the narrator suggests that an undisclosed attempt was unsuccessful, which means that Ichabod must leave her house dejected and susceptible to his worst fears.

Themes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

It was found the story in Diedrich Knickerbocker’s papers, who is dead, and who at the end of the story writes that he heard it from an old gentleman, who claimed to not have even believed half of it himself, ultimately getting much of the story from primary or even other secondary sources. Thus, even where the story is told with confidence, the narrator has given us reasons to doubt everything. We become critical readers, unlike Ichabod Crane, who believes the ghost stories he reads.The narrator also admits to complete ignorance of one of the defining moments of the story—Katrina’s imagined rejection of Ichabod—as well as to its ending. He does, however, relay a scene which he can only have knowledge of if Crane (or the horseman) has told his story. There were no other witnesses.the narrator has not demonstrated that factuality is the point. It is likely that the point of telling the story, just as it has been passed along from one person to another, is in the telling, the enjoyment of the tale. On the one hand, we are critical readers, because otherwise we would not figure out who is playing the role of the horseman. On the other hand, we shouldn’t act like a boring schoolmaster but like a true listener, enjoying the tale.

Solved Questions:

1.Describe the region of sleepy Hollow.

A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.””

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2.What gives Ichabod an excuse to visit Katrina at her house?

Ichabod was invited to a “quilting frolic” at Katrina’s home.It was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a negro in tow-cloth jacket and trowsers, a round-crowned fragment of a hat, like the cap of Mercury, and mounted on the back of a ragged, wild, half-broken colt, which he managed with a rope by way of halter. He came clattering up to the school door with an invitation to Ichabod to attend a merry-making or “quilting frolic,” to be held that evening at Mynheer Van Tassel’s; and having delivered his message with that air of importance, and effort at fine language, which a negro is apt to display on petty embassies of the kind, he dashed over the brook, and was seen scampering away up the hollow, full of the importance and hurry of his mission.

Contributor: Mahenoor Alam