The plot of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is largely concerned with a battle—one for the heart of Katrina Van Tassel. Or rather, perhaps, a war, made up of various battles and conflicts between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. This imagery is not an accident: Irving’s story takes place in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, around 1790. This language of war and battle would have made sense to a reader in a newly born nation fresh from the battlefield—a nation which was attempting to forge its own, internal hierarchies. The battle for Katrina takes place on various planes: Brom Bones plays practical jokes on Ichabod, for instance, while Ichabod’s attempts to win over Katrina are compared to the conquests of a knight errant going off into battle. Implicit in their competition is a tension between the physical and the intellectual spheres, between Brom’s brute strength and “manliness” and Ichabod’s role as a schoolteacher. Even within Ichabod’s sphere, there is a contrast between his magisterial reigning over the classroom and his need to ingratiate himself to the families that host and feed him.
Indeed, Irving is acutely aware of the ways in which social maneuvering is its own kind of battle, with the prizes being power and wealth rather than territory or political independence. In the early United States, though there were certainly social and economic hierarchies, there was also greater mobility and interaction between classes—both Brom Bones and Ichabod are invited to the same quilting frolic, and both are permitted to court Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a wealthy family. In the newly egalitarian society of the United Sates, paradoxically, battles such as that for the conquest of Katrina only become more dramatic, since greater heights now seem attainable and within the characters’ reach.
War and Battle ThemeTracker
War and Battle Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
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.
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.
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.
Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival’s appearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.
“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.”