The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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A young schoolteacher from Connecticut, who comes to Sleepy Hollow to teach the town’s children, presumably just for a time. He rotates between living at the homes of his various students for his food and lodging. Ichabod is tall, lanky, and somewhat awkward-looking. He loves singing and dancing—he also gives singing lessons—and believes he is excellent at both (there’s a touch of irony in the narration that suggests he may not be as talented as he thinks). Ichabod is shrewd and clever, knowing when to treat his students strictly and when to be more obsequious to his hosts. He also has a tremendous, almost voracious, appetite. At the same time, Ichabod is gullible and has a wild imagination: he adores reading and listening to ghost stories, even though they continue to terrify him at night after he’s heard them. For Ichabod, reality and fiction are less distinct than they are for most people—especially in Sleepy Hollow, where Ichabod comes under the influence of the “witchy” air. If not for that, Ichabod may well be just another example of an aimless youth, “tarrying” about with little direction or ambition. But, by the end of the story, we learn that Ichabod may have left this bewitched town and made something of himself after all—propelled back to reality by one final imaginative trick.

Ichabod Crane Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The The Legend of Sleepy Hollow quotes below are all either spoken by Ichabod Crane or refer to Ichabod Crane. 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

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. 

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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.

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.

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.

Postscript Quotes

“That there is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures—provided we will but take a joke as we find it:
That, therefore, he that runs races with goblin troopers is likely to have rough riding of it.
Ergo, for a country schoolmaster to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step to high preferment in the state.”

Related Characters: Storyteller (speaker), Ichabod Crane
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

In the postscript, the storyteller is asked to tell the "moral" of the legend of Sleepy Hollow, and this quotation is what he comes up with. On first glance, the passage seems nearly nonsensical. It employs terms like "therefore" and "ergo" that recall the language of philosophical argument, or at least of maxims stemming from the culture of the highly educated. But the relationship between cause and effect—between failing to marry a Dutch heiress and gaining an important state position, for example—is far from clear. 

Of course, the storyteller is alluding to Ichabod Crane's own luck, following the rumor that he did end up in an important position after the luckless mishaps of his youth in Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod, the storyteller suggests, actually won the battle against Brom at the end of the day, because he was able to break out of the sleepy village frozen in time. Still, we cannot take this "moral"—that every situation of life "has its advantages and pleasures"—entirely at face value, given the obvious tongue-in-cheek tone of the storyteller's words. Indeed, this tone suggests that any effort to assign a fixed meaning or a final cause to events is bound to be at least somewhat random. Rather than draw conclusions about Ichabod's trajectory and make a pronouncement on what it means for the listeners' own reality, the storyteller evades such an "educational" purpose and instead revels in the sheer delight of storytelling.

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Ichabod Crane Character Timeline in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The timeline below shows where the character Ichabod Crane appears in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Main Story
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In a “remote period of American history,” or thirty years ago, a young man named Ichabod Crane, from Connecticut, spent some time “tarrying” in Sleepy Hollow as a schoolteacher. Ichabod is... (full context)
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Ichabod’s one-room wooden schoolhouse, located at the foot of a hill next to a brook, is... (full context)
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Ichabod also plays with some of the older boys after school or accompanies the smaller ones... (full context)
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Ichabod also teaches singing and leads the Sunday chorus at church. He believes himself to be... (full context)
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Most people think Ichabod has an easy, tranquil life. The women in the town admire his taste and education,... (full context)
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Ichabod, in fact, may be clever and manipulative but also believes strongly in magic and witchcraft.... (full context)
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Ichabod also enjoys spending evenings with the elderly Dutch housewives, who enchant him with ghost stories... (full context)
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All these exchanges delight Ichabod, but he pays for it with absolute terror as he walks home from the gatherings.... (full context)
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Indeed, during the day Ichabod finds himself confronted with a more terrifying being than ghosts and witches: a woman, or... (full context)
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Ichabod deems Katrina “so tempting a morsel” as to warrant his attention—particularly once he visits her... (full context)
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Such abundance attracts Ichabod to Katrina even more. He quickly imagines growing rich from the farm, reinvesting the gains,... (full context)
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Ichabod’s heart is definitively “conquered” once he enters the farmhouse, with its early Dutch style of... (full context)
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Though Ichabod has fixed his sights on Katrina, he is now faced with difficulties—those more complicated than... (full context)
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...is also in pursuit of Katrina, which discourages other candidates, who withdraw in despair. But Ichabod, who is cheerfully persistent against pressure, decides not to openly wage war against Brom Bones... (full context)
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...He comes less and less to her farmhouse, and begins to desire open combat with Ichabod. The schoolteacher, however, knows he would never win a duel against Brom Bones, and avoids... (full context)
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One afternoon in autumn, Ichabod is sitting in the front of his classroom swinging around his birch whip, while his... (full context)
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Suddenly, the classroom’s atmosphere grows rowdy: Ichabod rushes the students through their lessons and has everyone leave their inkstands and books wherever... (full context)
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...elderly, ragged, one-eyed plow-horse named Gunpowder that nevertheless retains some of its youthful spirit, and Ichabod’s gangly figure with his elbows stuck out and arms flapping as he rides. (full context)
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...to the woodpecker, cedar bird, and blue jay, each with its own coat and idiosyncrasies. Ichabod looks upon these treasures as if they were a feast to be devoured—especially the apples,... (full context)
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As Ichabod crosses the Hudson, a “sloop” or sailing boat is bobbing in the distance, and through... (full context)
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By the evening, Ichabod arrives at the Van Tassel castle, already packed with the most well-to-do farmers and their... (full context)
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When Ichabod enters the home, his eyes rest not on the beautiful women but rather on the... (full context)
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After the feast comes the dance. This delights Ichabod, who takes almost as much pride in his dancing as in his singing. Outside, there... (full context)
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Afterward, some of the older guests gather around Ichabod to gossip and tell war stories—this neighborhood, indeed, was an important site during the Revolutionary... (full context)
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...and Daredevil would have won if the Horseman hadn’t vanished at the last minute. And Ichabod adds his own stories taken from Cotton Mather and his nightly walks around Sleepy Hollow. (full context)
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The party comes to a close, and Ichabod lingers, confident in his imminent success, in order to speak to Katrina. Knickerbocker does not... (full context)
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It is late at night by this point, and it is silent enough that Ichabod can hear a watchdog barking from far off across the Hudson, as well as an... (full context)
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Ichabod rides closer to the tree. He starts to believe that every sound is the sign... (full context)
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Terrified, Ichabod stammers, “Who are you?” but is not answered. He closes his eyes and starts to... (full context)
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As the race continues, Ichabod’s saddle slips from under him—an expensive one, and he immediately thinks of how angry Van... (full context)
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Ichabod sees the church in front of him, and thinks that if he can reach the... (full context)
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The next morning Gunpowder is found without its saddle or rider. Ichabod does not show up for meals or at school, and a search party sets out,... (full context)
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Hans Van Ripper is appointed to go through Ichabod’s possessions—which includes only several pieces of clothing, a razor, and a book of psalm-tunes. After... (full context)
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Several years later, an old farmer returns from New York with the news that Ichabod is still alive: he had left the village partly in fear of Van Ripper’s reaction... (full context)
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Brom Bones married Katrina shortly after Ichabod’s disappearance. He tends to put on a knowing look anytime someone tells the story, especially... (full context)
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...wives, though, who Knickerbocker claims are generally the most knowledgeable in the village, insist that Ichabod was carried away by the Horseman. The story becomes a favorite one in the neighborhood,... (full context)