The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
A Yellow-Bellied, Lily-Livered, Scaredy Cat
Ichabod is a namby-pamby. He's a chicken, a crybaby, a wimp, a wuss. Got it?
You'd think that a guy who loves scary stories wouldn't be afraid of the dark—but you'd be wrong. Ichabod is scared of everything, most specifically the supernatural. He's like that guy who memorizes every fact about The Shining, but is too afraid to actually watch it. Ichabod is constantly reading scary stories, telling them to others, and listening to people's tales. But once he's on his own in the dark, he is literally afraid of his own footsteps (1.18). How sad is that?
Ichabod is also afraid of people. He doesn't want to cause any trouble, so he'll do anything his landlords tell him to do. Mop the floor. Okay, boss. Take care of the kids. Sure, boss. Repair the Large Hadron Collider. Can do, boss.
Even though he acts meek and mild, we know that he secretly hates all of these people. For example, when Ichabod thinks Katrina likes him, he's mostly psyched about the status it will bring him:
[H]ow soon he'd turn his back upon the old school-house; snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper, and every other niggardly patron, and kick any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade! (1.44)
In other words, he can't wait until he's rich and can stick it to everyone who's ever been mean to him. Without that power, though, Ichabod just smiles and nods.
Our not-so-Don Juan is also afraid of his main rival, Brom Van Brunt. Instead of openly stealing his girlfriend from Brom, he just hits on her under the guise of a choirmaster. Then, when Brom wants to fight him—winner takes the lady—Ichabod refuses and runs away. Courage definitely isn't his strong suit.
Tall, Dark, and Not-So-Handsome
Our narrator spends a lot of time telling us how ridiculous Ichabod looks. The whole paragraph that introduces Ichabod is about how tall, skinny, and awkward the guy is, and it ends with this gem of a sentence:
To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield. (1.8)
Not exactly flattering. It doesn't help his case that Ichabod just likes to hang out with ladies—chilling, sharing ghost stories, doing housework. That's normal, right? Not in 1820, it isn't.
We have more enlightened ideas of gender roles today, but things were a lot stricter back in the day. Men did manly things, women did womanly things, and that was that. The fact that Ichabod is a pretty feminine guy—he gossips, he babysits, and he rocks cradles—sets off some red flags.
These lady-like, not-so-studly descriptions just add to the anti-hero feel of the whole story.
Seven Deadly Sins
Sloth? Check. Lust? Check. Greed? Check. Gluttony, envy, pride, and wrath? Check, check, check, and check. Since Ichabod is not-so-likeable in pretty much every way, we thought it would fun to break it down for you, seven deadly sins style.
As cowardly as he can be, Ichabod sure has a temper. At school, Ichabod whips his students and rules over them like a cruel tyrant:
In his hand he swayed a ferule, that sceptre of despotic power; the birch of justice reposed on three nails. (1.32)
Gulp. We know that he's just waiting to hit someone with that stick. At this point, he's powerless, so his wrath is just latent, waiting to come out. But once he's rich, he'll be ready to tell everyone what he really feels (1.44).
Man, oh man, is Ichabod greedy. He's mad with desire for wealth, power, and status. After all, the only reason he wants to marry Katrina is so he can strike it rich. We'd probably be able to forgive Ichabod if he just wanted to have enough food to eat or, say, a non-broken mirror to use. But no, he wants to be filthy stinkin' rich. To learn more about Ichabod's greed, check out what we have to say in the "Themes" section.
Okay, we might have to give Ichabod a pass here. He isn't really interested in the ladies in the slightest. All this guy cares about is food.
Speaking of which, Ichabod is the most gluttonous of all literary gluttons. He even beats Augustus Gloop. Our narrator continually makes references to Ichabod's literal and metaphorical appetite—oh, and his huge mouth. He clearly wants us to get the point.
Nearly all of Ichabod's thoughts revolve around food. Come on, what kind of normal person looks at a farm and sees, "not a turkey but […] a necklace of savory sausages" (1.22)? Seriously, a necklace of sausages? And who, when walking through the forest, thinks "of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel" (1.38)? Someone with an intense case of the munchies, that's who.
So how does he stay so slim? And why does the narrator make it a point to tell us? Let's try this on for size: maybe we're supposed to think that Ichabod's hunger is insatiable. He's so greedy that he'll never be satisfied with what he has. What do you think?
Ichabod doesn't seem lazy. He teaches during the week, leads choir on the weekends, and does housework for his landlords. That's a lot of stuff to fit in between his dates with the old Dutch ladies. But here's the thing: he has to do all this—it's how Ichabod makes his meager living and stays out of trouble.
The more important question is, what does Ichabod want to do? We'll tell you: nothing. He just wants to get rich and get the heck out of Sleepy Hollow (1.23). Ichabod doesn't even want to take control of the farm after old Baltus gets too old; he just wants to sell what he can, take the rest, and find somewhere to just be rich until his old age. You could say that Ichabod's sin is not active sloth, but sloth in hiding. Crouching Ichabod, hidden sloth?
This one is way too easy. Don't the "green glassy eyes" (1.8) give it away?
It's pretty simple: Ichabod wants Baltus's wealth and he plans to get it by marrying his daughter. If Ichabod were just greedy, he could find any other way to get rich. But Ichabod specifically wants what Baltus has.
It's no secret that Ichabod thinks he's a star. Our narrator reveals that singing is "a matter of no little vanity to him" (1.13) and that "Ichabod prided himself upon his dancing as much as upon his vocal powers" (1.47). Despite all his confidence, Ichabod is constantly made fun of for his singing and dancing. Back in the day, vainglory was a separate category of pride reserved for people who had pride in something they were awful at. Sound like anyone we know?
A Schoolteacher by Any Other Name
You might think we've been ragging pretty hard on Ichabod. But come on, Washington Irving gave us no choice. Just look at the guy's name. In 1 Samuel 4:21, the biblical Ichabod is born when the Ark of the Covenant (where the ten commandments live) is captured by the Philistines. Ichabod's mom is pretty upset about everything that's been going on, so she names her son Ichabod, or roughly, "no glory."
(Remember, the meaning of the name Ichabod would have been obvious to readers of the day, who were much more familiar with the Bible than us modern folk.)
Oh, and that's just his first name. Crane is easier to guess—it's a physical description of Ichabod. The narrator says so himself:
The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock, perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. He is tall, skinny, with a huge nose like a beak, and huge feet like a webbed duck's. Sounds like a crane to us. (1.8)
So, he's an inglorious ugly dude? That's what his name means? Are you surprised he's a total anti-hero?
We're just going to say it: Ichabod sucks. He's sinful. He's ugly. He's afraid of his own shadow. He's not a manly man. Even his name spills the beans. We get it. Irving doesn't have to keep smacking us over the head with how terrible this man is—but he does it anyway. Why make Ichabod into such a bad guy?
Irving is doing all he can to make us see that Ichabod is not a noble knight or Superman. He's not going to be saving any princesses—heck, he's too afraid of the dragon. And this guy isn't the devil-may-care Byronic anti-hero, like Batman. No, Ichabod is the uncool kind of anti-hero.
Here's the thing: with "Sleepy Hollow," Irving is making fun of Gothic, Romantic, and Romance literature all in one fell swoop. (No big deal.) Nothing in the story really works the way it should, and all the normal things about these genres are turned upside down. It's as if Iron Man were just a crazy guy wearing an orange painted box. Ichabod is the opposite of your normal protagonist, which makes him the perfect main character for a story that is the opposite of your normal, well, anything.Timeline