The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Irving

by Washington Irving

Ichabod Crane, the schoolmaster in Washington Irving's classic tale, is one of the earliest portrayals of a country schoolmaster in U.S. fiction -- and very possibly the best. The tale captures the essence of the town, its inhabitants, and its comic schoolmaster with skill, insight, and humor.  Go to the tale

   B a c k g r o u n d

  • Story Setting: Sleepy Hollow, NY
  • Story Date: The 1780's
  • Publication Date: 1819
  • Washington Irving: 1783-1859

  •    T h e    S t o r y
    (The links bookmark the tale.)

  • The beginning of the tale
  • About Sleepy Hollow
  • The Headless Horseman legend
  • Ichabod Crane is introduced
  • Ichabod's schoolhouse and students
  • Ichabod in the community
  • Ichabod and Katrina
  • Brom Bones, Ichabod's romantic rival
  • Ichabod reigns in his classroom
  • Ichabod attends a party at Katrina's
  • Ghost stories are told
  • Ichabod leaves the party
  • Ichabod hears a frightful noise
  • Ichabod meets the Headless Horseman
  • The next morning
  • The end of the tale

  •    T h e    T h e m e s
    (The links bookmark theme-related passages in the color-coded version of the tale.)

  • Students at Work: 1
  • The Schoolmaster: 1, 2, 3
  • Punishment, Revenge: 1
  • Romance: 1, 2, 3

  •    R e l a t e d    S i t e s

  • About Washington Irving

  • Washington Irving

  • Washington Irving

  • Rip van Winkle (text)

  •    I n t r o d u c t i o n

       "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving's classic tale of life in upstate New York shortly after the American Revolution, is a permanent part of the U.S. literary canon, and the town of Sleepy Hollow along with its inhabitants have become part of our country's folklore. The story's main character, Ichabod Crane, is also the model for most comic portrayals of the country schoolmaster in 19th century U.S. fiction; echoes can be heard in virtually every humorous tale that includes a petty tyrant ruling over his one room schoolhouse. Though the story is less about Ichabod's trials in the classroom than his attempts to romance the daughter of a wealthy landowner, Washington Irving's portrayal of Ichabod as schoolmaster and his sketches of the classroom are vivid and precise.

       In Ichabod, the reader sees the country schoolmaster as a clownish buffoon of questionable intelligence and meager education. He is a ridiculous looking man who is unduly proud of his educational attainments, which amount to little more than the ability to read and write, and his social skills, which are questionable at best. Nonetheless, he is accepted as an educated outsider in Sleepy Hollow, a quiet, isolated little community worthy of its name. Irving has a bit of fun with the townspeople's lack of worldliness, but they get far better treatment from the author than Ichabod. The rejection of his advances by a young woman and his final comeuppance at the hands of a jealous suitor show the schoolmaster's somewhat greater education and sophistication are no match for the wits and wiles of the community members.

       Most of the story is occupied with a description of Ichabod Crane and the community of Sleepy Hollow with little direct discussion of the schoolmaster with his pupils. Nonetheless, Irving sketches a masterful portrait of early 19th century rural education in the story's education-related passages. His depiction of the schoolhouse, built on the model of a trap for eels, resonates with any student who has ever felt confined in a classroom without hope of escape; his discussion of the common and accepted use of corporal punishment in the classroom is as clear and complex as any I have encountered in fictional accounts; and the brief scene portraying Ichabod in the classroom in the aftermath of a teacher-student confrontation captures this moment with an absurd accuracy that still rings true in this teacher's ears almost 200 years later.

       Washington Irving attended school until he was sixteen and was at best a reluctant student. Later in life he commented that he spent those years "mewed up, during the livelong day, in that purgatory of boyhood, a school-room." His lack of enthusiasm for his education is no surpise, given the bitingly satirical portrayal of Ichabod Crane and his classroom.