Irving’s sketch presents two opposing views of masculinity: the archetypical Herculean stud (i.e. Brom Bones) versus the alternative, awkward intellectual. Ironically, instead of having the underdog (i.e. Ichabod Crane) triumph in the affairs of the heart, as the audience would expect and hope, Irving affords Brom an unexpected cleverness, while simultaneously exposing his insecurity-a dynamic view on a seemingly static character. Irving values both representation of masculinity, but his favor lies with the representation that is not overrun with folly and is inclined to appreciate the values of simplicity, sensibility, and humor. Brom grounds himself in humanity, aligning himself with the common man despite his distinguishing characteristics. Quite the opposite path is chosen by Ichabod, and he becomes the butt of a practical joke because of it.
Ichabod Crane is a most intriguing and slightly unsettling character that Irving carefully and sometimes subtly constructs. Irving begins Ichabod’s description by making light, through litotes, of his surname, “The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person.” Ostensibly, Ichabod is a slight and lanky individual with “hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves” and “feet that might have served as shovels.” His miniature head is awkwardly dominated by comparatively enormous nose and set of ears. Irving summarizes Ichabod’s physical appearance by calling him a “scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.”
Irving intensifies Ichabod by describing his behavior as a schoolmaster, where he governs his school house conscientiously, administering “justice with discrimination rather than severity.” He is not a man to inflict “a chastisement without following it by the assurance.” Fittingly he becomes “the companion and playmate” of his students when the last bell sounds, which, also considering he often lodges with families of students he instructs, makes him popular among the women of Sleepy Hollow. Moreover, his beautiful voice and intelligence brought droves of women to him, who he would entertain and be entertained with mystifying tales of the supernatural environs of Sleepy Hollow, especially that of the “headless horsemen” or “Hessian of the Hollow.”
The women of Sleepy Hollow are not the only ones to indulge in this supernatural lore; in fact, Ichabod is consumed by them: “His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary.” This characteristic of Ichabod makes him especially susceptible to the “terrors of the night” and “phantoms of the mind.” But despite Ichabod’s pathetic physique and childish credulity in the supernatural world, he is still a man. Irving is careful to assert Ichabod’s masculinity through his intelligence, success with women, and desire for domestic happiness. However, we see Irving conceives another version of masculinity, which is radically different than Ichabod’s.
Brom Van Brunt or Brom Bones as he is better known is Irving’s seemingly prototypical representation of masculinity. Brom is a man of Herculean proportions, blessed with “great power of limb… famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship,” and gifted with a “strong dash of waggish good humour.” Brom is simply a man “always ready for a fight or a frolick,” and ultimately, the undisputed alpha-dog and most-eligible bachelor of Sleepy Hollow.
Irving’s description of Brom Bones is entertaining and endearing. Although he appears to be present Brom as the foil of our protagonist, Ichabod, we cannot help but be enamored with Brom’s slapdash, fun-loving attitude and heroic nature. Irving presents both these views of masculinity favorably to engage and challenge the audience, but also to set up an ironical twist that asserts masculinity is more dynamic than the stereotypic representations he seemingly presented. Moreover, Brom and Ichabod are transformed into vehicles Irving uses to convey an element of the human condition.
A Dutch farmer’s daughter, Katrina Van Tassel, happens to attend Ichabod’s “instructions in psalmody,” which causes her to gain Ichabod’s fancy. Although Ichabod’s attraction to her is sexual at first, he develops the desire to beseech her hand in marriage after perceiving the “perfect picture of thriving” and luxurious domestic contentment that could be his. Baltus Van Tassel, father of Katrina, is described as a “substantial Dutch farmer” with a mansion filled and surrounded with abundance. Moreover, Katrina herself is an appetizing opportunity to Ichabod. Irving’s uses gustatory imagery and figures to describe her, which portrays Ichabod as, at most, a pervert or, at least, a man who thinks of women as objects of pleasure.
It must be noted that part of this objectifying of Katrina is a product of the life Irving lived and the sentiments of his time. This, however, does not mollify the attitude Ichabod approaches Katrina with. She is simply “so tempting a morsel” as “ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches” that he ostensibly cannot wait to sink his teeth in. Granted, Katrina is not without flaws. She is “a little of a coquette”, prone to wearing “provokingly short petticoat[s];” however, this does not detract from Ichabod’s pompous and somewhat disgusting greed and ambition. Unfortunately for Ichabod, Brom Bones harbors a passion for Katrina as strong as Ichabod’s ambition.
The Courtship of Katrina
Irving only shortly discusses Brom’s courtship of Katrina focusing more on Ichabod’s courtship, but the little we see of Brom’s is greatly different than Ichabod’s. Brom is intrinsically chivalrous and affectionate. Irving illustrates Brom’s courtship methods as neither subtle nor gentle, stating Brom has the “gentle caresses and endearments of a bear” and sums him up as “a lion in his amours.” Ichabod is little discouraged by the attention Brom shows Katrina. Slyly Ichabod proceeds with his machinations “under cover of his character of singing master” to Katrina, allowing him to make “his advances in a quiet and gently insinuating manner.” Ichabod continues to court Katrina behind Brom’s back, which, interestingly, leads to the decline in Brom’s visits to Katrina. Brom defers to Ichabod and also becomes jealous of Ichabod’s apparent success with Katrina, leading him to turn to practical jokes to deter Ichabod. Brom smokes out Ichabod’s school house, vandalizes the school house, and mocks Ichabod in front of Katrina. At this point Irving has pushed the audience as far as he can in favor of Ichabod.
Despite Brom’s efforts Ichabod is not discouraged from his ambition, evidenced by his eagerness to curtail the school day after being invited to a night of festivities at the Tassel’s. Ichabod tries awkwardly to don the type of masculinity he lacks by attempting to fix himself a cavalier appearance and attaining a horse. Irving begins to reveal the underlying dynamism in Brom as Ichabod is seemingly growing closer to Katrina. Brom’s jealousy and practical jokes are Irving vehicles for revealing Brom’s true passion for Katrina, and call attention to the unnaturalness of Ichabod’s and Katrina’s relationship. The town coquette is not supposed to won over by the bookish stranger to the town but by the “rantipole hero” of it. However, the dark horse is always rooted for by readers, but Ichabod is not the prototypical underdog that audiences love to see triumph. Irving breaks this tension in the climactic scenes comprising and following the festivities at the Heer Van Tassel’s castle.
Brom is immediately the center of attention at Tassel’s castle as he enter gallantly on his steed, but Ichabod is quick to steal it away with his gyrations on the dance floor with Katrina, which soon send Brom to the corner “sorely smitten with love and jealousy.” Despite Ichabod’s triumph at the party Irving imparts that he does not fit in with the farmers and his dancing, despite inciting envy in Brom, further separates him from their lifestyle. The only common experience Ichabod is able to share with the Dutch farmers of Sleepy Hollow is the storytelling of the supernatural, although he reads much more into it than them.
The revel ends with the exchanging of a few ghost stories and legends, which inevitably deal with the headless horseman. Ichabod lingers a little to talk with Katrina but things do not go favorably. He sets off from the party “heavyhearted and bedrooped” and with fresh recollection of the ghost stories. Ostensibly, Irving has foreshadowed Brom’s ingenious practical joke, which reveals the depth of Brom’s passion for Katrina and manifesting the village’s subconscious rejection of foreign Ichabod from their number. Brom disguised as the Headless Horseman chase Ichabod from Tarry Town.
In chasing Ichabod around the marshes of Sleepy Hollow, while impersonating the headless horseman, Brom shrewdly exploits Ichabod’s foolish credulity in the supernatural for the contentment of his heart and the social harmony of the village; he puts everything back into their rightful place. There is an irony in Brom’s practical joke on Ichabod. Irving persuades the audience that Ichabod is going to win Katrina’s heart over the heroic Brom Bones only to invert this, illustrating a clever side of Brom that was not presented to the audience before. Irving diversifies Brom in a way the audience would never expect, especially from Irving’s initial representation. Furthermore, Irving no longer portrays Ichabod as the protagonist and making him an antihero. Irving’s favor has shifted to Brom, which is ultimately Irving’s implicit assertion that a sensible, realistic masculine identity that seeks to understand and relate to people is superior to that of an aloof and foolishly serious masculine identity.
Ichabod and Brom are originally presented as two separate views of masculinity. Brom’s initial characterization illustrates him as a man of physical and social prowess but leads the audience to believe he has little depth, while Ichabod is characterized as a man of great intellectual depth but lacking physical and social gifts. These characterizations are complicated when Katrina enters the story as a romantic interest for both. Ichabod is shown to have only the semblance of depth to his masculine identity. He is truly only motivated by superficial greed and ambition; moreover, Ichabod is controlled by an obsession with the supernatural, which makes him a victim of delusion and paranoia. Irving condemns Ichabod’s follies in the postscript, which explicitly illustrates where his favor lies. Irving states, “That there is no situation in life but has advantages and pleasures, provided we will but take a joke as we find it: That, therefore, he that runs races with goblin troopers, is likely to have rough riding of it,” which points to Ichabod’s self-absorption and pomposity as his greatest failing as a man.
On the contrary, Brom is grounded in his reality, capable of creating meaningful bonds with members of the village, and capable of emotional depth (i.e. his love for Katrina). Irving deems Brom the triumphant form of masculinity not only to assert his feelings on masculinity but to reinforce the central message of the sketch. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is not summed up by “the ratiocination of the syllogism” in the postscript, it is truly a story of the human tendency to forget the importance of the real world and the bonds of humanity for an imaginative world and the esoteric. Moreover, the sketch emphasizes the invaluableness of sensibility, pragmatism, and humor in human interactions.
Irving, Washington. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Robert S. Levine, Arnold Krupat. New York: Norton & Company, 2007. Vol. B. 965-85.
This article was originally published on suite101.com