Ichabod Crane: Character Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:00 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • 0:32 The Headless Horseman
  • 3:12 The Role of Ichabod Crane
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Edward Zipperer

Eddie has an MFA in English from Georgia College where he has taught scriptwriting, English 101, English 102, and World Literature since 2007.

This lesson provides a short description of the struggle between the protagonist and antagonist of Washington Irving's 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' as well as a character analysis on the story's protagonist, Ichabod Crane.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is often presented in pop-culture remakes as a story of the supernatural, but it's really a mystery. The plot of the story is driven by the rivalry between Ichabod Crane, the protagonist of the story, and Brom Bones, the antagonist of the story. Both men are set on winning the love of Katrina Van Tassel. In the end, Ichabod fails to achieve his goal of winning Katrina's love.

The Headless Horseman

A careful reading of the story reveals that there never was a Headless Horseman. The specter Ichabod sees in the last scene is actually Brom Bones. Irving included many clues that should lead you to this conclusion in the story's exposition. For the record, exposition is important background information given by the author to help you understand the story. Often, the purpose of exposition is foreshadowing, which is information which prepares you for events that will occur later in the story.

First, you're told:

'It was often his delight, after his school was dismissed in the afternoon, to stretch himself on the rich bed of clover, bordering the little brook that whimpered by his school-house, and there con over old Mather's direful tales, until the gathering dusk of the evening made the printed page a mere mist before his eyes. Then, as he wended his way, by swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination. . .'

This excerpt is an important piece of foreshadowing because it prepares you for the last scene of the story where Ichabod encounters the 'Headless Horseman' and his 'excited imagination' gets the better of him.

The next important piece of foreshadowing is this:

'Ichabod became the object of whimsical persecution to Bones, and his gang of rough riders. They harried his hitherto peaceful domains; smoked out his singing school, by stopping up the chimney; broke into the school-house at night, in spite of its formidable fastenings of withe and window stakes, and turned everything topsy-turvy: so that the poor schoolmaster began to think all the witches in the country held their meetings there.'

This should foreshadow two important things for you as the reader. First, that Brom Bones plays practical jokes on Ichabod to torture him. Second, it tells you that Ichabod wrongly interprets Brom's jokes as being a result of supernatural forces. So, in the last scene you're armed with the information that you need in order to understand that Brom is playing a practical joke by masquerading as the Headless Horseman. It should also be made apparent that Ichabod is foolishly buying into the masquerade!

Finally, Irving gives several clues at the end that are meant to lead you to the conclusion that Ichabod was tricked out of town. The most important one being:

'Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late.'

Then, the next day:

'. . .where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.'

Obviously, it was the pumpkin that struck Ichabod and not the head of the 'Headless Horseman.'

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