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Character Analysis in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Ichabod Crane: Ichabod Crane is a schoolteacher from New York who arrives in Sleepy Hollow to teach the local children and, hopefully, raise his own worldly standing. Unfortunately, Ichabod is out of place and is not a charmer by nature. He is tall, gangly, and, true to his surname, possesses a distinctly birdlike disposition and appearance. His interpersonal manner is often abrasive, and he struggles to veil his desperation in his conversations with others.

Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt: Ichabod Crane’s double, foil, and rival is a young local man named Abraham Van Brunt. Like Crane, Van Brunt’s last name is an aptonym, for he indeed brings his “brunt,” or forcefulness, into every scenario. His nickname, Brom, is also telling in the way it sounds like “brawn.” He is known for his tremendous strength, athletic skill, and physical prowess.

Katrina Van Tassel: While the character of Katrina Van Tassel is key to the plot, she is never fully developed in the narrative. She is the daughter of Balt Van Tassel, a successful Dutch farmer. Katrina is described as spirited and beautiful. She takes delight in the attention of the men, leading on Ichabod Crane in his efforts to woo her.

Character Analysis Examples in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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"The cognomen of Crane..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The noun “cognomen” comes from the Latin cognōmen, which refers to one’s third, or family, name. In English use, a cognomen can also refer to a distinguishing name or epithet of a person. Here, the narrator claims that Ichabod resembles his cognomen, or family name. He physically looks like a crane, a large bird, because he has long, spindly limbs like a crane’s legs. This description of Crane contributes to the more humorous way the author chooses to portray the hapless schoolteacher.

"rantipole..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The adjective “rantipole” refers to a person who is wild and confrontational. Thus, though Brom is a hero, he is not without flaws.

"and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Notice this telling detail: though Brom is mischievous and prone to pranks, he is ultimately a good person with good intentions, making him more sympathetic than readers might first suspect.

"He was broad-shouldered and double-jointed, with short curly black hair, and a bluff but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Compare this description of Brom Bones to that of Ichabod Crane. Whereas Ichabod is skinny and bookish, Brom is sturdy, strong, and mischievous. Crane is an educated transplant from Connecticut, a “Yankee”; Brom is a native of Dutch descent. They are opposites of one another, representing new ideals—intellect and learning—clashing with old values—strength and hardiness. The characters are foils to one another.

"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..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Notice how Crane cares very little for Katrina—he is instead most interested in her money and what he can do with it. Crane’s attraction to Katrina is selfish rather than born of actual affection, which Irving will contrast with Brom Bone’s genuine care for her well-being.

"They consisted of two shirts and a half;..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

This detail is quite humorous. Among Crane’s meager belongings are “two shirts and a half.” What Crane would do with half a shirt is a mystery, but it seems fitting considering his scattered, ramshackle nature.

"The fireflies, too, which sparkled most vividly in the darkest places, now and then startled him..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Here, Ichabod Crane is portrayed as comically cowardly, cringing at the sight of an especially bright firefly. He is decidedly unheroic, subject to the whims of superstition and deception.

"No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Notice that food and consumption vocabulary is associated with Crane. In addition to his bottomless pit of a stomach, Crane is always searching for more stories and tales to consume. His primary motivation is hunger, both of the physical and intellectual varieties.

"small shrewdness and simple credulity..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The noun “shrewdness” describes the condition of having good judgment, while conversely the noun “credulity” means a tendency to quickly believe in something. Paradoxically, Crane is capable of good judgment but is often gullible, one of his greatest character flaws.

"and smiling graciously in reply to all his amorous oglings..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

In a surprising moment, Katrina appears somewhat drawn in by Crane’s advances. The diction here, particularly the word “ogling,” suggests that Crane’s behavior remains boyishly inappropriate. The word “graciously” indicates that Katrina accepts Crane’s advances, even if she does not reciprocate his feelings.

"How could the flogger of urchins be otherwise than animated and joyous?..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Ichabod Crane is the “flogger of urchins” in that he flogs—or whips—his students, referred to here as “urchins,” a word for mischievous children. This rhetorical question brings to light some of Crane’s contradictions; he is both a domineering schoolmaster and a rollicking dancer.

"kick any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade!..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

In his feast-fueled fantasy, Ichabod Crane turns his back on his life and himself. By dreaming of “[kick]ing any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade,” Crane denounces his own identity and place in the world. Crane is thus at odds with himself: his grandiose imagination is savage to the reality of who he actually is.

"Old farmers, a spare leathern- faced race, in homespun coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The “old farmers” at the Van Tassel dance represent the old guard, the Dutch farmers who have settled and farmed the lands of the Hudson River Valley for several generations. They are in many ways the opposite of Ichabod Crane: steeped in proud traditions, grounded in the land, and sturdy in their physical presence.

"Cotton Mather..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Cotton Mather was a real historical figure who is most associated with the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s. Though not present for the majority of trials, his writings on witchcraft and the occult are believed to have laid the groundwork for gathering evidence against those accused of witchcraft. By the 1800s, when Irving composed “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” belief in witches had mostly died out; by saying that Crane fervently believes in witches, Irving paints him as a superstitious, irrational fool despite his education.

"Certain it is, his voice resounded far above all the rest of the congregation..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Here, Crane’s vanity is comedically showcased. He believes himself to be the best singer in the church. The narration makes clear, though, that Crane’s voice, though not necessarily the best, is definitely the loudest among the congregation. This suggests that he is not very self-aware.

"in the true style of a cavalier..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

A “cavalier” is a horseman, usually of military rank. In his 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language, Volume 1, lexicographer Samuel Johnson pointed out that the word has a connotation of stylishness, a cavalier being, in his words, “a gay sprightly military man.” Stylish and yet regal. Elegant and yet authoritative. All of the things Ichabod Crane will never be.

"he had various ways of rendering himself both useful and agreeable...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Here Ichabod Crane is portrayed more sympathetically, as he makes himself useful to the families he stays with. It is important to note, though, that without the generosity of these families, Crane would have nowhere to live, so his work is not without reward.

"and on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

This passage suggests that Ichabod Crane only assists others when it benefits him—in this case, he only walks home students who have attractive sisters or mothers who can provide him with food. In this way, he is both cunning and selfish.

"he administered justice with discrimination rather than severity..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

We can read this description of Crane’s punishments two ways. Charitably considered, it suggests that Crane is sensitive to his students, making sure he doesn’t hurt any of them. Less generously, it could also imply that Crane is doling out punishment to correct the injustices in his own life, sparing the students who look like him and punishing those who resemble his rival, Brom Bones.

"Ichabod..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The name Ichabod gives readers a little insight into his character. The name itself is of Hebrew origin and means “no glory,” or “inglorious.” The meaning behind the name suggests that Crane has an unassuming and somewhat cowardly nature.

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