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Foreshadowing in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Irving makes use of foreshadowing throughout “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” signalling important events to come and creating tension and suspense. Some of the most notable instances of foreshadowing occur through the medium of local folklore. The tale of the Headless Horseman is told early on in the story, only to resurface at the climax. The same pattern is true of the tree named after Major André. Other, more subtle, instances of foreshadowing include shifts in mood and scenery to signal the coming scene, such as the beautiful sunset landscape before the Van Tassel dance and the eerie, quiet, dark turn the landscape takes before the climactic chase.

Foreshadowing Examples in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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"witching hour..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The “witching hour” is a phrase derived from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, wherein the titular prince remarks, “‘Tis now the very witching time of night,/When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out/Contagion to this world.” The witching hour has come to refer to the dead of night, when the endarkened conditions of the environment bring on a state of fearfulness and dread in human travellers. Some of the most important moments in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” take place at the witching hour, a phenomenon to which Ichabod Crane is particularly vulnerable.

"However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Even those who are not originally born in Sleepy Hollow feel its effects after living there for a while. The list of purported effects—which affect one’s perception of the world—are likely to be felt in the story, setting the stage for a ghostly apparition later on.

"The dominant spirit..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The retelling of various legends—such as that of the “dominant” apparition—suggests that characters may encounter them later in the narrative.

"Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

According to Knickerbocker’s research, Sleepy Hollow is a place given to superstitions. The land seems to cast a spell over its inhabitants. The source of dreamlike apparitions is the landscape itself, which provides the perfect backdrop for ghostly encounters—including frightening ones. The setting foreshadows Ichabod’s encounter with a ghost by providing just the right place for it.

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