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
Consumption, Appetite, and Greed Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
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.
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.
“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.”