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Tone in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Irving’s prose style—rendered in the layered voices of Diedrich Knickerbocker and Geoffrey Crayon—is precise, verbose, playful, and musical. The musicality and delight in detail can be found in passages such as “There was the doughty doughnut, the tender oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes.” The playful commentary that runs through much of the narrative is reminiscent of the exuberant writing of Herman Melville, another early 19th-century American fiction writer from New York. Even when the story enters into a more adventurous and calamitous tone, there remains a sense of good fun to the whole endeavor.

Tone Examples in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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"A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose;..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Sleepy Hollow’s atmosphere is one of rest and languid relaxation. The sounds invoked in this passage support its idyllic portrayal—they are natural yet soothing, inviting any listener to rest rather than spur them to action. The imagery is that of an Edenic, romantic-era landscape painting, with a simple valley divided by a brook and populated only by quail and woodpecker.

"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.

"A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Notice the militaristic vocabulary associated with Van Tassel’s farm. “Fleets” and “regiments” of farm animals suggest that the farm is orderly and well-behaved, pointing to the organizational skills of the Van Tassel family. To Ichabod Crane, a lover of rules and structure, the estate is irresistible.

"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.

"for he was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The verb “dilate” means to make wider or expand. Thus, this is a humorous line that speaks to just how much food Crane can eat—far more than his lanky, skinny body should be able to, much like a snake.

"an eelpot..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

An eelpot is a trap used to catch eels. Due to its shape and construction, eels are easily able to enter the trap but cannot get out once they have entered—much like a burglar trapped inside Crane’s schoolhouse. This is an example of lighthearted, comedic description applied to Crane and his exploits.

"Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Sleepy Hollow is not only quiet and remote but also enchanted. Irving is setting the stage for strange things to happen.

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