The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Diedrich Knickerbocker Character Analysis

The narrator of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” who apparently heard the story from a storyteller at a business meeting in New York. Washington Irving often used the persona of Knickerbocker in these stories, as an elderly, eccentric chronicler of Dutch history who insists upon the accuracy of his tales. Knickerbocker first appears as the pseudonymous author of Irving’s 1809 “History of New York,” and some of Irving’s later tales are meant to come from Knickerbocker’s papers. This device, called “framing,” helps establish “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as a “true” story rather than a fictional yarn. By claiming veracity for his story through the use of Knickerbocker, Irving plays with the boundaries between history and storytelling, and does his part in contributing to the nascent development of American literature in early American history.

Diedrich Knickerbocker Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The The Legend of Sleepy Hollow quotes below are all either spoken by Diedrich Knickerbocker or refer to Diedrich Knickerbocker. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow published in 1999.
Main Story Quotes

The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; star 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. 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.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Headless Horseman
Related Symbols: Head of the Headless Horseman
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:

Irving opens his tale by describing in detail the setting of Sleepy Hollow, which is located in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York—an area that, in the 18th century, was almost entirely settled by the Dutch and their descendants. This passage is a combination of careful, objective description and fanciful storytelling, which sets the tone for the rest of the story, in which the boundaries between fact and fiction, between history and storytelling, are not always clear.

According to Knickerbocker (the narrator), this setting is ideally suited for a supernatural tale for several reasons. In some ways, he seems to suggest that the inhabitants of the town are simply more likely than the general population to swap ghost stories and to believe fantastical tales. This would situate his story within such a tradition. However, he also implies that there is indeed something in the very air or "spirit" of the setting that is supernatural—the shooting stars, and the meteors glaring across the sky. In this sense, Knickerbocker is merely a historian, chronicling the stories of a particular region. 

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Legend of Sleepy Hollow quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

It is remarkable that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker)
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Knickerbocker continues his suggestion (in the voice of both a storyteller and a historian) that the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow are not simply mad or naturally superstitious, but become so by "imbibing" the very air of the place. Not only does the setting make one see visions and dream strange dreams, but it invites anyone who stops there to slow down, to remove himself or herself from the regular rhythms of daily life in order to embrace new rhythms and a new standard. Setting, in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, almost possesses a power of its own in its ability to affect other characters. By acknowledging its might, Knickerbocker prepares the reader for the entrance of the protagonist, Ichabod Crane, who—even though he is not native to this region—will before long begin to embrace the "witching" influence of the place to an even greater extent than many other residents.

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for 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 remained 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.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

This story takes place around 1790, not long after the end of the American Revolutionary War. At the time the United States of America was just coming into being as a unified nation, and many people continued to feel greater allegiance to smaller, more contained areas, whether the "great State of New York" or even a certain town or group of descendants sharing a common heritage, such as here the Dutch. The end of the eighteenth century saw many great changes sweeping the country, but here Knickerbocker seems to prefer the old-time charm of a town where little has changed. Furthermore, linking the town's heritage to the Dutch allows Irving to give a greater scope of history to his story—the U.S. was still very young as a country, but Americans holding on to their Dutch roots would have a much longer history to look back upon.

Of course, as has already been suggested by the apparition of the Headless Horseman—headless from a Revolutionary War battle—even such a town forgotten by time as Sleepy Hollow is not exempt from historical change. Indeed, Knickerbocker seems to be stretching the historical truth in order to situate his tale within a particular frozen moment in time, where the rules of modernization and of objective history may not apply as they do, increasingly, in the rest of the land. 

In this by-place of nature there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, who sojourned, or, as he expressed it, “tarried,” in Sleepy Hollow, for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

The names that make up the setting in this story are often, as mentioned, an active part of the plot: the name "Sleepy Hollow" suggests a slowing down of the tempo of daily life, while "Tarry Town" (the name of the region where Sleepy Hollow is located) is appropriate because of how easy it is for characters like Ichabod Crane to linger or "tarry" there. Ichabod, we learn, is not from Sleepy Hollow originally, and indeed only means to stay there for awhile: his schoolteacher's position seems to be not a serious career but merely a means of supporting himself as he wanders through the East Coast and lives out his youth.

The notion that Knickerbocker's tale took place in a "remote period of American history"—a mere thirty years ago—is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that American history itself, at the time of the story's publication, was not long enough to have any kind of "remote" past. Thus the term "remote" has to be stretched to take into account how little time the United States had been a nation. Knickerbocker takes on the language and tone of a chronicler of myths or national origin stories, while also acknowledging the difficulty of doing so compared to a place like Europe, populated by its own tale-tellers for many more centuries.  

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

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Ichabod is not originally from Sleepy Hollow or Tarry Town, he fits in well with the "spirit" of the place, in that he adores supernatural tales and fantastical ideas—even if this propensity has been "increased" by spending time in the region. Ichabod's wild imagination is a humorous inversion of the expectations we normally have for a schoolteacher character. Interestingly, although Knickerbocker has praised the sleepy charm of the region and its inhabitants, Ichabod's imaginative mind is, here as elsewhere, usually portrayed as an example of his immaturity and his inability to embrace reality. Perhaps this stems from the fact that he wholeheartedly "digests" tales rather than enjoying them at a distance.

Indeed, Ichabod's likes and desires are often described with the language of food and consumption, from his "appetite" to his "capacious swallow." Just as he can be gluttonous in eating, so Ichabod reveals an equal gluttony in his desire for marvelous tales.

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 to ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, the way Knickerbocker narrates the story of Ichabod's sojourn in Sleepy Hollow has a tongue-in-cheek humor to it. Ichabod may terrify himself with the tales (that he nevertheless adores) of "ghosts, goblins" and witches, and yet a woman—that is, Katrina Van Tassel—is shown to be even more powerful in her hold over him. This equivalence reminds us both of Ichabod's hyperbolic reaction to supernatural tales and of his difficulty of distinguishing between reality and the supernatural. Against both, Knickerbocker suggests that Ichabod's attitude will be one of attempting to fight what he understands as great force with his own kind of force. He will attempt to "conquer" Katrina just as he conquers his fears, as he tends to treat her as a material object to be won more than as another person. 

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, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

Ichabod is attracted to Katrina, viewing her earlier—to continue the language of gluttony—as a "tempting morsel," but here we learn that there is a more powerful motivation for Ichabod to win her over and marry her. As the daughter of a wealthy farmer, Katrina (or rather her future husband) stands to inherit not just the wealth of the farm but also the rich culinary delights that can be harvested from the fields of wheat and corn and from the fruit orchards.

This passage also exemplifies Ichabod's tendency towards wild imaginative escapades, not only in the realm of the supernatural, but also in any enterprise. Here his imagination truly gets ahead of him, galloping into a future full of entrepreneurial projects and profits, before he has made any headway in actually wooing Katrina. Ichabod's imagination will force him to be more realistic in attempting to win her over, but the force of what he imagines and the reality of his low chances of doing so will remain far apart.

Brom, who had a degree of rough chivalry in his nature, would fain have carried matters to open warfare and have settled their pretensions to the lady, according to the mode of those most concise and simple reasoners, the knights-errant of yore,—by single combat; but Ichabod was too conscious of the superior might of his adversary to enter the lists against him.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

Knickerbocker has introduced us to Ichabod's "adversary" in his fight to win the heart and the hand of Katrina: Brom Bones, another inhabitant of the region. Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane could not be more different—where the latter is fanciful, timid, and easily frightened, the former is rational, confident, and belligerent. Knickerbocker portrays Brom Bones as in some ways a relic from an earlier time, when conflicts would be resolved through man-to-man fights and brute strength was considered the greatest weapon in one's arsenal (even in the battle for a woman's heart). Here, Ichabod is shown to be shrewd, even if he cannot compete with Brom on that level: knowing that they are not well-matched, he prefers to wage battle on a more indirect front. Still, it is difficult to know whether or not Ichabod is underestimating Brom by only considering him as an adversary in brute force rather than also one in trickery and strategy.

The neighborhood, at the time of which I am speaking, was one of those highly favored places which abound with chronicle and great men.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker)
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

Ichabod has ridden his horse to the Van Tassel farm for a quilting party, and after the dancing many of the guests have gathered around to tell stories. Ichabod has gone to the dance principally with the desire to win over Katrina, but because of his love for storytelling, he cannot stop himself from being drawn into the circle to participate.

Once again, Knickerbocker assigns an active role to the setting: not only are Sleepy Hollow and Tarry Town places of supernatural activity and a bewitching influence, but they are also privileged sites for important events from the historical past. In fact, as the stories are related, there seems to be little explicit distinction made between ghost stories and historical tales. Rather, the word "chronicle" is made to stand in for both true historical facts and tales made up, or at least exaggerated in their retelling over time. The story suggests that any attempt to unravel history from storytelling is, if not futile, then certainly fraught with difficulties.

Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker)
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

The guests at the Van Tassel quilting party are still exchanging historical and fantastical tales. As he has done before, Knickerbocker suggests that there is something about this region that is frozen in time, immune to the historical changes and modernizing processes that have come to characterize much of the rest of the young American nation. Here, he specifies more precisely what that means for storytelling. In other areas of the country, people come and go at such a rate that few remember what things were like even in the recent past. In Tarry Town, however, Ichabod is the rare interloper into a society that has remained in the same setting for many generations. As a result, it is much easier for local stories to be passed down from person to person. In addition, it is more possible for such tales to be confirmed by the inhabitants, since many of them may have witnessed the events of the past themselves. Such witnessing puts a veneer of authenticity on tales that might otherwise be dismissed as fiction, even if those who are telling the tales admit that they exaggerate and fictionalize elements of them. 

The story was immediately matched by a thrice marvelous adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of the galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Brom Bones , Headless Horseman
Related Symbols: Head of the Headless Horseman
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

Many of the guests at the Van Tassel party are discussing the most famous superstition of the region, that of the Headless Horseman, who was killed in the Revolutionary War and now gallops around chasing anyone who crosses his path. They have just related the story of old Brouwer, who didn't believe in ghosts until he met the Horseman one night and was chased by him, ending up being hurled into a stream.

Brom Bones, as usual, seems entirely unaffected by the frightening tales swapped by the others. He takes the opportunity to remind everyone of his own prowess as a horseman and of his inability to be conquered even by a malicious ghost. Only by the Horseman vanishing at the last minute, Brom claims, did he fail to capture and unseat him. Brom thus makes clear to Ichabod, among others, that he is not someone to be trifled with. However, his "making light" of the situation also suggests that he has escaped at least some of the bewitching influence of the region. By making fun of the Headless Horseman rather than duly expressing awe and fear of the apparition, like the others, he shows himself to be firmly anchored in reality and factual accounts of history—in other words, seemingly not a "true" citizen of Sleepy Hollow.

He saw the walls of the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” though Ichabod, “I am safe.”

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones
Related Symbols: Head of the Headless Horseman
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

After leaving the party, Ichabod is confronted by a towering figure on horseback. Soon, with dread, he realizes that it is a headless body on a horse carrying its head in its saddle. The horseman pursues Ichabod through the dark paths and towards the church. Ichabod remembers this church from the story told by Brom Bones: it was there that the horseman had disappeared, so it is there that he believes he will be safe.

Ichabod thus is shown once again to embrace the tales told by fellow Sleepy Hollow inhabitants as historical truth, even though he knows that Brom Bones is prone to bragging. Although he mistrusts Brom Bones as a competitor for Katrina Van Tassel, Ichabod is credulous enough to accept his story, especially since the tale has been echoed in other versions by so many other guests at the party. These tales have become Ichabod's own reality, and he acts for his own safety in line with this reality.

In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane
Related Symbols: Head of the Headless Horseman
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

The day following the Van Tassel party, Ichabod Crane cannot be found anywhere, and a search party fails to turn him up. Knickerbocker describes the evidence that they do find, much of which the reader can piece together as belonging to Ichabod's escapade the night before. It is apparent that Ichabod was there, since his hat must have flown off.

The shattered pumpkin, however, is noted in the narrative without any further explanation being attached to it. It is up to the reader to recall that the headless horseman had hurled his "head" at Ichabod, who fell to the ground, and to imagine what that "head" might be. Of course, the fact that Knickerbocker refrains from interpreting the scene means that we cannot know for sure. But significantly, the story does not draw to a close with Ichabod's immaturity and wild imagination being revealed as a fraud, while fact-based reality wins out. Instead, the story leaves us with a historical, material possibility coexisting with the supernatural explanation that Ichabod would have embraced.

Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival’s appearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Brom Bones , Katrina Van Tassel
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

Much of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been concerned with the competition between Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane to win the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. Here, Brom Bones is shown to have won that battle, as he marries her and gains access to her father's estate and wealth. Even without facing Ichabod in direct, face-to-face battle, Brom has managed to conquer him. At the same time, it is suggested that Brom is much wilier than others, including Ichabod, believed. Brom is unable to fully hide his satisfaction at Ichabod's abandonment of the village, insinuating through his laugh and knowing looks that his own plot was at work in driving his rival away. 

The narrative thus suggests that greater knowledge might be what can do away with supernatural beliefs. Brom is able to dismiss the fear of the marvelous because he knows what really happened that night with Ichabod (perhaps), while the other inhabitants of the village must resort to other beliefs.

The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire.

Related Characters: Diedrich Knickerbocker (speaker), Ichabod Crane
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

Directly after seeming to convince the reader of the true answer to the mystery of Ichabod's disappearance, Knickerbocker balances that view with another, that of the "old country wives" who were always Ichabod's preferred companions for exchanging supernatural tales. Now the cycle continues without him, as Ichabod becomes one more character in these women's arsenal, just like the many figures that have preceded him and that have served as fodder for their stories.

Once again, Knickerbocker is ambivalent on the relationship between reality and the supernatural, between imaginative tales and historical fact. On the one hand, we are told that the women are, in fact, the "best judges" of such events, implying that they are to be trusted as historical chroniclers. On the other hand, these purportedly historical facts are told around the fire, for what seems like the evening entertainment of the town. Of course, this does not mean that the wives' opinion is false—indeed, at the quilting party historical anecdotes from the war were recounted along with supernatural tales. But the effect is to once again blur the line between what counts as "truth" and what does not.

Get the entire Sleep Hollow LitChart as a printable PDF.
The legend of sleepy hollow.pdf.medium

Diedrich Knickerbocker Character Timeline in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The timeline below shows where the character Diedrich Knickerbocker appears in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Main Story
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
...with a note that it has been found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, the story’s narrator. (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Knickerbocker describes the setting of the story, Greensburgh or Tarry Town—a small port town next to... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Two miles from this village is a valley nestled between hills, which Knickerbocker calls one of the quietest places in the world. He remembers wandering into it while... (full context)
War and Battle Theme Icon
...church. He believes himself to be quite talented, and takes pride in this role—indeed, as Knickerbocker notes, some quiet Sunday mornings you can still hear the echoes of Ichabod’s resounding voice... (full context)
War and Battle Theme Icon
Knickerbocker claims not to know how women’s hearts function: some are won over easily, while others... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
War and Battle Theme Icon
Since Knickerbocker wants to tell a true “romantic story,” he pauses to describe the scene: an elderly,... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
War and Battle Theme Icon
Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Theme Icon
...heaped with Dutch delicacies like doughnuts, sweet cakes, ginger cakes, and all sorts of pies. Knickerbocker has no time to enumerate them all, though Ichabod gorges himself on all these treats,... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Theme Icon
...close, and Ichabod lingers, confident in his imminent success, in order to speak to Katrina. Knickerbocker does not know what happened at this meeting, but believes something went wrong, since Ichabod... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The old country wives, though, who Knickerbocker claims are generally the most knowledgeable in the village, insist that Ichabod was carried away... (full context)
Postscript
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Knickerbocker says that he first heard this story at a Corporation meeting among burghers in the... (full context)