The Headless Horseman, of course, is a major character in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” But the ghostly rider—and, especially, his head—also symbolize the tension between reality and imagination, between the natural and the supernatural, held by many of the townspeople. The Horseman is fixed in historical fact: there were, indeed, many Germans or “Hessians” hired by the British to fight against the American army during the Revolutionary War. Indeed, though the townspeople’s stories about the Galloping Hessian may be ghost stories, it hasn’t been long since a real Hessian rider (one alive and with a head) could provoke fear in them for good reason—as the enemy. By becoming headless, the horseman can become nestled within society’s cultural and imaginative traditions, even while remaining based in history.
But in other ways, the horseman symbolizes Ichabod’s less defensible inability to separate fiction and fact. Indeed, it loses its head just as Ichabod, more metaphorically, loses his each time he returns home spooked by the Dutch ghost stories. Brom Bones takes advantage of this lack of reason. Brom uses his head—both intellectually in plotting and strategizing, and practically in hurling a “head” at Ichabod.
Head of the Headless Horseman Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
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.
The story was immediately matched by a thrice marvelous adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of the galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey.
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.”
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.