Sleepy Hollow: Remnants of Times Not So Far Past

June 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the theme of haunting is dominant; the haunting itself is purely a human creation and is created solely to meet human needs. Though at times it can seem quite realistic due to emotions evoked through Irving’s masterful use of imagery, it is at all times quite fictional, even to the narrator. Haunting is continuously associated with stretches of the imagination, and also mostly with live or animate things: trees, animals, sounds escaping from the wilderness. The idea of haunting, which leads to stories told by the Sleepy Hollow community, begins when there are no answers to curious happenings, or when the given answers are not satisfactory, or even mundane. The idea is then perpetuated when citizens begin to elaborate and incite new notions of ghosts and goblins from the original stories. The ‘haunting’ begins, however, with supernatural explanations for simple events in the past, such as Andre’s capture during the war; though this is a simple and not uncommon event in wartime, Sleepy Hollow is clutching to the past through vivid story telling. The fact that it is storytelling is subtly clear.One of the key ways that the reader can tell that the haunting is fictitious–or at the very least extremely questionable–is through the narrator’s word choice. Though the story is supposed to be an historical account of events that actually occurred in Sleepy Hollow, he often questions the veracity of the haunting. Even at the climactic point in which Ichabod faces the Headless Horseman, the narrator writes that Ichabod “beheld” (1082) the horseman’s disfigured shape, and that it “appeared” (1083) massive in the darkness. He never uses concrete verbs, such as ‘was,’ because it is not certain that what Ichabod ascertains is truly what is present. He carefully chooses his diction to simultaneously show what Ichabod is seeing as well as the fact that only he is seeing it–it is well possible that it does not exist. He does this strikingly well in the sentence, “Ichabod was horror struck, on perceiving that he was headless” (1083). There is no doubt that the protagonist believes completely in what he is seeing, but the use of the word ‘perception’ is key; it throws doubt upon the believability of Ichabod’s sense of reality.This false sense of haunting that is seen so clearly through Ichabod’s eyes manifests itself in particular places within the text. There are various moments in which nature gives him the feeling of being haunted, though it is harmless.Then, as he wended his way, by swamp and stream andawful woodland, . . .every sound of nature, at that witchinghour, fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of thewhip-or-will from the hill side; the boading cry of the treetoad; . . .the dreary hooting of the screech owl. . . (1064)The wilderness scares him, haunts him in a sense. Through the present nature–the shadows cast by trees, the sounds of forest animals–Ichabod, like all the other Sleepy Hollow residents, fears the past. It is the ‘witching hour’ merely because it is dark outside, and the sounds frighten him merely because he has an ‘excited imagination,’ and for no real substantial reason. Like the tree and stream that Andre is said to haunt, there is nothing that is really to be feared–merely shadows and cricket chirps, wind rustling leaves. The fear, however, is a result of the stories that are told, not necessarily of the actual surroundings. That Andre was captured is not a scary story, but that his spirit remains to haunt can be construed as frightening; it is purely imagination, though, that causes these stories to be told in the first place.The unfaithfulness of such stories is revealed toward the end of the tale. The reader is told that Ichabod is indeed alive and well following his supposed abduction from Sleepy Hollow by the Headless Horseman. The residents of the town also come into this knowledge by a farmer that has seen him firsthand. However, “the old country wives… maintain to this day, that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means… the schoolhouse… was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue” (1086). The Dutch wives, who are the perpetuators of the haunting stories throughout the text, persist in creating stories that they know to be false. They continually take what little past they have, and turn it into stories so that it is not lost, so that there is a history upon which they can build their present. But because they have so little past, they need to use the present to create a past–they use what happens to make a new history, a new past, building upon what they have already created.Ichabod is a prime example of this practice. He is clearly still alive, but he is in the history of Sleepy Hollow because he is no longer bodily present. The true reason for his disappearance is not satisfactory and is not exciting enough material with which to make a history, so the Dutch wives concoct their own history, and it becomes truth. Everyone who enters Sleepy Hollow becomes subject to their whimsical tales, and falls into their belief system, no matter “however wide awake they may have been before they entered the sleepy region” (1060). They cannot be held at fault, however. There is simply so little past that they need to preserve what they have through what is now present, what is now alive. This is shown through the abundance of live and animated haunting imagery. The haunting comes solely from within them, and only manifests itself in these external things. For these people that lack a past, fictitious events become legend, and then those legends become history.

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