The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
War and Battle Theme Icon
Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Theme Icon

One of the first things we learn about Ichabod Crane is that he is a “huge feeder,” with “the dilating powers of an anaconda.” His massive appetite leads him from neighbor to neighbor, supplementing the food he can afford on a teacher’s income—but it also leads him into courtship and, ultimately, into danger. Ichabod is initially attracted to Katrina because of the abundance of her father’s farm, which is described down to the last mouth-watering detail. Indeed, Irving’s very prose is full and lush, seeming to goad the reader into the kind of greed Ichabod embodies. Even Katrina is described as being a “tempting […] morsel.” Her characterization as an object to be consumed relies on stereotypes of women prevalent at the time, to be sure, but it also refers back to Ichabod’s obsession with consumption.

Ichabod’s appetite goes beyond food and women: it extends to the realm of tall tales and ghost stories, which he “swallows” eagerly—though with his own version of a stomachache afterwards, when he has consumed so much that he becomes terrified by the “ghosts” lying in wait for him on the return home. Ultimately, Irving’s description of Ichabod’s greed and appetite can be situated within a broader social context. In the early post-revolutionary United States, much of the country still remained to be explored (and claimed). The nation still seemed to be a vast repository of natural resources and abundance only waiting to be consumed. Irving’s depiction of Ichabod serves as an implicit rebuke to this kind of thinking. While economic consumption (and competition) were necessary to a society on the cusp of modernity, Ichabod’s exaggerated appetite shows the drawbacks of never-ending consumption as dangerous and unhealthy.

Consumption, Appetite, and Greed ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Consumption, Appetite, and Greed appears in each section of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Below you will find the important quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow related to the theme of Consumption, Appetite, and Greed.
Main Story Quotes

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.


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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.

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.