As the town schoolteacher, Ichabod is both admired and mistrusted for his knowledge. Though many of the women in the town consider him a perfect gentleman, some of the farmers who send their children to study under Ichabod are prone to be suspicious of book learning and consider schoolteachers no more than “drones.” Cotton Mather’s book occupies a similarly ambivalent position. On the one hand, it’s an example of Ichabod’s cleverness and knowledge, and he cites it whenever possible (indeed, it’s difficult to tell whether Ichabod reads anything else at all). On the other hand, this is a book of witchcraft—not exactly a chemistry textbook. In that sense, the “History of New England Witchcraft” symbolizes Ichabod’s uncertain position as he “tarries” in Sleepy Hollow—having been educated as a schoolteacher, he has not yet matured enough to leave behind dreams and fantasies and make a real, practical life for himself (something he does do once he leaves Tarry Town behind and becomes a successful lawyer and judge).
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The timeline below shows where the symbol Cotton Mather’s “History of New England Witchcraft” appears in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...his time in the region only exaggerates. He often spends his evenings after school “swallowing” Cotton Mather’s stories until it’s too dark to read. Afterwards, as he returns to his lodgings, the... (full context)
...only several pieces of clothing, a razor, and a book of psalm-tunes. After also finding Cotton Mather’s “History of New England Witchcraft”, an almanac, and a book of fortune-telling among Ichabod’s possessions,... (full context)