Analysis of Sleepy Hollow Story by Washington Irving

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow story employs the mechanism of old world folklore as well as real-life events that occurred during the American Revolution. The story was originally narrated by Diedrich Knickerbocker to describe traditional associated with the ancient Halloween celebrations. The Knickerbocker’s story shows the brimming of Washington Irving short stories that consist of character descriptions that keep the reader on the edge, reading the content (Irving 2). The story incorporates stylistic devices such as irony and fiction to present factual description of characters and places. I explore how Irving uses a framing device to develop legitimacy and historical veracity from the Diedrich Knickerbocker’s narrative.

The description of the story

The description of the story shows that Dutch had settled into America for few years, Irving uses the word “ancient” to exaggerate the truth to give the story an element of legendary by claiming the United States’ new history that is able to boost cultural tradition (Irving 5). Irving describes the problems experienced in town such as poverty that forces characters such as Ichabod to seek wealth by trying to marry a rich woman. The “Tarry Town” is used to show the theme and characteristics of characters, which comes out as a forgotten place (Irving 5). The word “tarry” is used to show that there are no elements of change among characters such as Ichabod, and his behavior will remain the same.

Contrary to Knickerbocker

Contrary to Knickerbocker, whereby personal opinions and perspective are not inserted into the story, the Irving uses mechanisms for fleshing out the setting and organizing the stage to contrast idyllic, calm village and the associated supernatural haunting. He adopts the title “Sleepy Hollow” to show the aspects of the town and personal description of Knickerbocker, but he uses more succinctly (Irving 7). For instance, the story portrays the “witching influence” as mysterious as well as primordial, which creates an aspect of natural history within the setting.

The narrator combines the history

The narrator combines the history, reality and supernatural aspects where he describes ghost stories of Sleepy Hollow. The tale indicates that the Revolutionary War was associated with massive death as well as destruction, a claim that is based on “authentic historians” through imaginative affairs (Irving 9). There was a claim that the ghost was riding every night, which could have been a mythical story created by villagers that is common during war. The construction of the ghost story by Irving indicates elements of ambiguities since the piece does not clearly show the susceptibility of Sleepy Hollow to the ghosts and apparitions. Again, it is not possible to tell if the entire village is prone to imagining things rather than relying on facts. The narrator thinks that if he returns to the Sleepy Hollow, he will find residents living in poverty and desperation as before, which shows that the town has been forgotten and the quality of life will remain the same (Irving 12). The style also demonstrates the paradoxical aspect; whereby the ghosts, as well as spirits, reveal the narrator’s view on the historical state of the town that is influenced and traumatized by violence.

The narrator uses the phrase “remote period of American history”

The narrator uses the phrase “remote period of American history” to reflect on the original author uses humorous language to develop a sense of history where only little is present. He used terms such as “remote history” of the United States to explain what happened in the past thirty years (Irving 15). Legitimacy aspect is witnessed through the behavior of Ichabod who is often considered absentminded and he does not notice his condition at any given time. The description of Ichabod's house, “one-room wooden schoolhouse,” shows the application of stylistic skills by Irving, contrary to the original story by Knickerbocker (Irving 19). He emerges as a narrator acts as a representative of the readers with the full gamut of characters’ personalities. Ichabod shows authoritative aspect but looks distracted, strict and fair. His actions are referred to as “tarrying,” in the town “Tarry Town” and he is seen not knowing what he is doing regardless of appreciating the social role of the teacher (Irving 7). The word tarrying indicates that he will continue repeating the same action and there is no expectation for him to change. The historical aspect is witnessed where he argues that whip is for the stronger, sulky and tough-skinned students, as the weaker and smaller children are spared.

Going to school was not a norm in early American society

Going to school was not a norm in early American society since young children could work at homes as they wait to inherit farms of their parents. Irving uses the example to show the history of tension being witnessed in “book learning” as well as practical knowledge that children get when they work as a field hand to help in supporting the income of families (Irving 23). Similar to the narrator, Ichabod is aware of the change in his behavior, which shows that historical social relations are battles that require understanding and strategic approach. Irving also used subtle irony when describing the voice of Ichabod, which may be not as spectacular as he thinks compared to the original narrative. For instance, Irving indicates, “quiet Sunday mornings you can still hear echoes of Ichabod's voice” (25). The narrator expresses an aspect of legitimacy by use of the detailed description of how Ichabod adapts the behaviour of the people around him. Irving uses deviates from the intention of the original narrative through the use of appetite language and assumptions when describing other things, rather than foodstuffs.

The unreliable narrator

The story is created by an unreliable narrator, Knickerbocker when even at the end of the text he claims that “I don’t believe the half of it myself.” Irving’s ending is also ambiguous since the readers are not clearly told the state of Headless Horseman whether it was a real phantom or a Brom Bones playing tricks on Ichabod (Irving 19). Regardless of the use of framing style to bring about the legitimacy of the story, it is not possible to take the words of, Knickerbocker at his face value, which has resulted in a significant change of the ultimate meaning of the tale based on the faith we put on the truthfulness of the original narrator.

Irving is also an unreliable author

Irving is also an unreliable author since he framed narrative in a way that it is not possible to put additional layers of fantasy to his piece. The element of legitimacy is evident in the description of Katrina who is being admired by Ichabod. The description of Katrina as “the only daughter of wealthy Dutch farmer” shows an expensive material that Ichabod is admiring like a consumable substance or something worthy to fight for (Irving 17). Contrary to Knickerbocker, Irving stresses the description of Katrina that covers several paragraphs as a way of emphasizing to ensure that the readers understand the magnitude of the desire he has, not only for wealth but also for his greed for food.

Legitimacy is also demonstrated by the elements of uncertainty

Legitimacy is also demonstrated by the elements of uncertainty that shows the competing conclusion of the story. From the story, Ichabod being a legend is ironic because he leaves town due to the fear of losing saddle or social embarrassment after he lost the “battle” for Katrina. Knickerbocker explains that Ichabod becomes less dreamy after leaving the sleepy town of Sleepy Hollow, he is also less focused on seeking wealth and abundance by marrying a rich woman. Irving puts more emphasis on Ichabod’s path to mirror the United States’ history when the storytelling was being transformed from small-town agrarian society to the one that is dominated by commerce whereby members were “striving” (Irving 24). Irving shows the value of history and how it is useful in career development and the reality was prized on uncivilized individuals who believe in ghost stories.

In summary

In summary, when the framed device is used, the main plot line of a tale is buried and the only visible argument is the secondary plot line. Irving’s story was generated from Knickerbocker’s narrative that was not published. Irving puts more emphasis on what he thinks that it is making sense to him, which may interfere with the reality of the original story. In this case, the narrative takes place inside the second story in which Irving tries to prove its legitimacy and credibility of historical veracity. In this case, the sentiments presented by the piece becomes unrealistic and less fantastical, since he focuses more on Ichabod, which presents incredible series of application of framing the device to show emotional depth and legitimacy of characters. Regardless of the story being unrealistic, Irving proves to have successfully used a framing device to bring legitimacy and historical veracity of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow story.

Works Cited

 Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Lerner Publishing Group, 2015.

November 24, 2023



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