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George Orwell Essay, Research Paper

Imaginative Characteristics in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Irving was a well-known American author who lived in the early nineteenth century . As a child he enjoyed spending his time reading, mostly romance and travel books. This led to the critical development of the styles that he used in his stories. These styles were most noticeable through his use of setting, characters, and inventing with his own imagination. It was through these aspects that he best conveyed his thoughts about the American spirit. Irving portrayed the spirit of overcoming fears in such an elaborate and sinister way that he really had an effect on people’s lives. He also portrayed the spirit of living life to the fullest, and enjoying it as much as possible.

Washington Irving’s most distinct characteristic, which is found in most of his stories, is his use of humor to help portray the story. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, “Irving’s use of the supernatural is more acceptable to the modern reader than the more serious interpretations of Irving’s other works” This makes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow unique because it has a distinct use of humor unlike any other story Irving had written at this time. This captured the reader’s attention as being a book which is not as serious and not meant to be taken literally like others author’s works that were around, which made The Legend of Sleepy Hollow more in touch with the spirit of American folklore . Irving was very much in touch with local folklore. Most of his stories were based entirely on people’s accounts of local traditions, which made Irving’s stories more realistic and believable. Irving also used this style to promote the American spirit of enjoying and having fun in your life. The combination of these styles made an outstanding form of literature that appealed to most American readers at this time .

Another one of Irving’s most notable characteristics is his use of characters in a local environment. Irving uses local folklore to set the mood of the story and give the people something to relate to. Irving based his most notable stories on this, and that is why they are as good as they are. Irving also uses local sagen and accounts of practical jokes that are scattered freely throughout his tales to add tone and richness . This style can be seen in almost all of Irving’s work, he used it to give the story a light and colorful appearance allowing the reader to relate with the author on a certain level*. It also allowed people to be able to form connections between their lives and the lives of the characters in the story. This was an important aspect of American literature at this point in time, because readers wanted to be able to relate their lives and experiences to those of the characters in a story. This gave them a better understanding of what the author was trying to tell them, and how they should interpret his words.

One of the most amazing things about Washington Irving was his ability to create things entirely from his imagination. Very few authors can accomplish this trait successfully, and it is what makes Irving stand out as a great American author. He is especially good at elaborating and embroidering the skeleton of a local tradition so that it becomes an involved and romantic tale . Irving would find out what folklore, local society, or a local tradition came from. He would then combine this knowledge along with his imagination that would bring the tradition onto a new level. Irving was also capable of creating pure fiction in his imagination . This was Irving’s most outstanding characteristic. He could start from nothing at all, and create pure fiction that would be outstanding in length, character, and content. Although Irving had this incredible talent of creating fiction he was never satisfied with the results . Despite this confidence flaw, he was still able to compose some of the best fiction writing that is unmatched even today.

Irving is also well known for his wide use of authentic setting to aid in the creation of his stories. Like many other authors, Irving commonly made the setting of a story a place where he had visited before. This allows Irving to relate directly to certain characteristics of the setting; since he has been there before and can give specific details to enhance the accuracy of the setting, he can make it more realistic to the reader. Irving also based the setting of his stories on local tradition. In order to become familiar with the local tradition of an area, Irving would often read the local folklore of that place to help him understand the way people perceived things in that area. This strengthened the connection between the author and reader, which made more people want to read his books. Irving also made a connection between the setting to themes and morals in the story . This created an even greater relationship between the author and the reader. It also sets the mood of the story in the perspective of the readers this helps to convey the author’s thoughts and ideas more easily.

Irving uses his great ability of imagination in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to help portray the American spirit of realizing and overcoming one’s fears. This is extremely evident in the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow where the whole time everybody is scared and all hyped up over the headless man who rides around by the bridge looking for his head. For some of the people in the story, fear is all they know. Ichabod is a fine example of how the people should live the American spirit. He is there to show them that they have to overcome their fears. During the party Brom Von Brunt tries to scare him with the story about the headless horseman, but after the party Ichabod puts his fears aside and goes out riding. Even though he disappears and is never heard from again, he still overcame his fears and Irving’s great use of imagination portrayed this action in such a horrific state of suspense that it kept the reader on the edge of his seat until the final joke was played at the end. This is another example of how Irving relates to the readers. Most of Irving’s stories end with a joke at the end. This portrays the spirit of having fun and enjoying life. By putting jokes throughout his works, and ending most of them with a joke he is telling the readers that they should not take things too seriously and they should have fun in their life.

This story can also be related to the original American spirit, which is to live an easy life and be wealthy. Throughout The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Ichabod Crane is trying to make a living so he can have a good life. He works as a schoolteacher and even though he is forced to live at other people’s houses because he cannot afford a place of his own. This is completely opposite of the American dream, but what Ichabod is doing is working towards a place of his own and an easy life which is the American dream. This is similar to what happens in another one of Irving’s works, The Devil and Tom Walker. In this story Tom Walker is just an average guy who dreams of being a rich man, and ends up trading his soul in order to become wealthy. But in the end the devil comes for his soul, and all of his wealth turns to ashes, and he is gone. This is similar to what happened to Ichabod. He was trying to gain importance in the world, but was killed before he could ever accomplish anything.

“The work of Washington Irving reflects the quality of tension between imaginative endeavor and cultural tendency.” Washington Irving created many stories, which told of times of hardship, joy, and horrific tales of fear. Irving was able to capture a certain aspect of folklore that no one else could. He also used his incredible gift of imagination to portray to us the true meaning of the American spirit.


1 Encarta 98 Encyclopedia Washington Irving copy write 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation.

2 Janey Mulland Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism vol. 19 (Detroit: Gale

Research, 1988) 336-344.

3 Mulland P.337.

4 Michael Davitt The Development of American Romance, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1980 P.256.

5 Nancy Black “Washington Irving,” White on Red (December 1996).


6 Janey Mulland Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism P.336.

7 William Trent The Cambridge History of American Literature, New York: The

Macmillan Company 1938 P.6.

8 Harold Eaton Short Stories, New York: American Book Company 1951 P.71.

9 Author Voss The American Short Story, University of Oklahoma press 1973 P. 7.

10 Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, (October 1992). http://softseek.com/Education_and_Science/Literature/Review_6941_index.html

11 Mulland P.341

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