Term Paper: Washington Irving's the Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Washington Irvings "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

In "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the narrator subjects the reader to turns and twists of a subtle nature, in which our narrator only teasingly reveals the exploits of each covert storyteller wishes to disclose. Essentially, the work weaves a story within a story, a tale so complex that any argument, if focused on one facet of the story, may seem plausible. However, given Irving's overlapping narration, oftentimes from first person limited to third person limited, a simple explanation serves unsatisfactory results, and undermines the complexity of the story. Not that Irving intends to be obscure, but given the hush-hush tone of Tarrytown, and even Ichabod's discreet attempts at self-preservation, esoteric elements of secret societies such as the Van Tassel's tends to extricate those unmapped parts of American territory never explicitly considered or foretold in American history. Additionally, Ichabod's walk across that foreboding bridge, haunted by stories of Sleepy Hollow, represents the undefined journey in unknown territory, where concrete definitions of the American experience and the American dilute to a fragile pluralism that forces the reader to discern the meaning.

Irving streamlines the reader through thematic elements of the falsity of American indulgences, following along the questionable pursuits of the ambitious Ichabod Crane, whom most assuredly doubts very little of his abilities and his nature saunters over to woo the well-endowed daughter of an aristocrat-like family. Even the narrator of the story Knickerbocker imbues a deceit in his description of Crane vs. The character's actions, which follows distastefully in his shamed exile in the end of the story. Additionally, Crane's transition from self-assuredness of winning the girl whose sole propriety of a promised profit is readily declined. Irving, on the one hand, defies clear explanations that creates an inherit paradox to the characterization of Crane received from the first few pages of the story. Crane's sense of optimism ends up betraying ideals he so whole-heartedly agreed as the constitution of his character, only later to be annihilated by a class of people whose definition of success was just as arbitrary as Crane's. David Anthony goes on to say that the constitution of both characters were just as empty as the value that backs up a dollar.

Ichabod, that is to say, represents the mindset of commerce. Romantic desire for him is inextricable from economic desire and a market-oriented form of "imagination." But Ichabod, of course, is also easily duped and humiliated, especially by Brom Bones in his imposture as the Headless Horseman -- a fact which suggests that, in addition to acting as the emergent subject of commerce, he is also a figure for the many thousands of American men who, "embracing phantoms for realities" in the manner described in the quotation from the Niles Weekly Register, were deceived by the fantastical nature of the period's economy. (15)

Irving shifts moods in his imagery depending upon where Crane may be situated at the time. For instance, Crane mistakenly assumes that his powers of assurance will smoothly transfer to the Van Tassel mansion; however, this is not the case. Not only is he rejected as the viable suitor, but also Crane becomes a regular Clark Kent rather than the Superman he was back in Connecticut. Certain images, for instance, correspond to the circumstances Crane Finds himself. During his travel to the mansion on his plow horse, Irving broiders the setting with pleasant imagery of "small birds taking their farewell banquets" and "Thus feeding his mind with many sweet thoughts and "sugared suppositions." The imagery takes a turn for the worst after Crane's rejection; Irving then segues to the old abandoned church suggesting that old ideologies and dogma that once worked miracles no longer work for Crane. The imagery, in essence, articulates deadness as the narration focuses on a dead tree, matching the perturbed feelings of Crane. It is here Irving uses solid symbols to convey the inconveniences of circumstances suggesting that 'things are not what they seem."

Situational ironies displace the expected turnouts of both Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane. Here, Irving manipulates reader expectations that intellect (Ichabod) will preside over brawn (Brom Bones). Assumptions take us further into their prospected characterizations in the instance of Crane whose frail, angular body vs. that of the robust figure of Brom Bones. In this instant, it is presumed that Katrina will retire from Brom Bones' superficial gesture of nobility, and that she will be persuaded by Ichabod Crane's charm. The outcome, of course, stirs away from this generalization and asks instead to question the integrity of the characters. According to Piacentino, "

Sleepy Hollow shows that the forces of disruption in a stable Southern Village do not always intrude from the outside, but are sometimes associated with irresponsibility on the inside, in this instance, the conflict ensuing between two generations of locals of different levels of maturity and with different priorities.(8)

Irving invites the reader to question the integrity of these characters, none of which is presumed as better than the other, only that the supposed hero is never to be found. Neither Brom Bones nor Crane is the hero. The narrator, furthermore, embeds further indoctrination of convincing that Crane has it altogether, yet amusingly Irving provides a Don Quixote image of Crane on his worn out steed, which suggests that he will subjected to further ironies later in the story. Just like Don Quixote, Anderson describes the fancies of Ichabod, "as much a victim of his overreaching imagination." (3)Irving wittingly utilizes his talent by playing on our assumptions that the hero from the city will rescue the dame from the country. However, landscape provides no advantages here. Such stereotypes heavily mocked, only provide the faint realities that underlie the assumptions of the country at this time. Considering the antebellum period of this story, it makes sense such assumptions pervade.

Conjectures deflate during the journey. You just never know what to expect. Interestingly, Irving spends about four pages into the story characterizing Crane. Now why is that? You would think such long investment in a character would at least supplant some fortunate sympathy for the character. However, Irving's style of aggrandizement of Crane begins to annoy and questions as to why an author would offer so many compliments to this angular man. Behind Crane's supposed blameless qualities, is a transparency easily recognizable? With Crane's fragile ego, essentially he carries himself with the weight of a child. Subsequently, Irving portrays those questionable assets of the American, whose indoctrination of the pursuit of happiness becomes paper-thin, struggling with the triviality of American ideals and earnestness of carrying them out. According to Pollard, "Like the rest of the book, they show their author wrestling with the nature of America and Americans, and pressing his countrymen to do likewise. (8)

Considering the overlapping narrations of the store, it is hard to identify who posed control over the story. Even the narrator himself admits inconclusively as to the fate of Ichabod Crane. Additionally, the town's women purport no control over the narration either since their voices is not presented in dialogue, even though the women heavily populate Sleepy Hollow. According to Plummer and Nelson, "Of the numerous tales that circulate Sleepy Hollow, those told by men concern their own fictional exploits." (6) So whom does the story belong too? The reader cannot draw any conclusions either. Such an ambiguous technique employed in the finale of the story and throughout, that the only substantial conceptions of America are the legends and stories behind it. What endures in the story is the telling of the tale. The characters come and go. We know that Ichabod disappears, and that Brom Bones ceases to be important. Reverence for the land demonstrates itself in Irving's persistent descriptions of nature. Given the decrepit images of the church and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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