The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
Romanticism, Gothic, Romance, Satire, and Parody
Whew, that sure is a lot of genres. How did Irving manage to fit them all into this little story? Never fear—Shmoop is here. Plus, these are some of the easiest genres to identify.
Before Emo, There Was Goth
To be more specific, there was Gothic-Romanticism, a sub-genre of Romanticism. Ah! So many we-have-to-think-too-hard-for-this words! Let's break it down. Romanticism was a movement that rebelled against the Enlightenment by valuing emotions over reason. What makes this Gothic-Romanticism instead of just plain old Romanticism is that the important emotion is horror or dread. (That wasn't so bad, was it?)
But in case it's not crystal clear, let's point out some key features along the way. At its base, a Gothic novel is a scary story in a gloomy setting that involves supernatural elements that probably want to kill you. The natural world is important, and usually, the setting is so detailed that it becomes its own character.
Does that sound like the easiest thing in the world to make fun of? It was. In Irving's day, some authors were getting bored of the really cheesy novels that were dominating the literary scene. Since the elements of Gothic fiction are already exaggerated and easily identifiable, it was easy for those authors to start writing Gothic parodies. Irving seems to have just jumped on that bandwagon.
Looking for Romance
What makes a romance? Usually, it's about having a super strong, chivalrous knight who goes on a quest for something and fights a monster and fantastical creatures in order to win the hand of a fair lady. Think Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Think The Sword in the Stone. Don't think Ichabod on his busted up plough horse.
Wait, then how is "Sleepy Hollow" a romance? Aha! That's where the genre of parody comes into play. Both Ichabod and Brom are referred to several times as knights errant—metaphorical ones, of course. Brom wants to be a proper knight and win the hand of Lady Katrina, but Ichabod won't fight him fair and square, so he has to find other less chivalrous ways to win.
And Ichabod… well, take all those things that we said about romances, and reverse them. He is a knight of sorts, but he's definitely not strong or chivalrous. He goes on a quest for money (marrying Katrina for her inheritance) and he fights a monster (the Headless Horseman), but there's no chivalry, he doesn't beat the monster, and he sure doesn't get the girl.
Basically, Irving gives us the worst possible knight we could ever imagine. He turns the whole genre inside out and upside down. Why? For the laughs.