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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


by Washington Irving

Analysis: Narrator Point of View

Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

Third Person (Objective)

You might want to sit down for this one. Ready? Okay.

The story of Ichabod Crane was written by a fake guy, listening to a fake old man, found by the fake author of The Sketch Book.

Confused yet? We'll break it down:

  • Diedrich Knickerbocker is our narrator. This is the guy who supposedly wrote down the story that we're reading.
  • But wait! The story was told to him in person by an old man. Oh, and this old man admits (in the postscript) that it's a bit of a tall tale.
  • The story was published in Geoffrey Crayon's (another fictional guy) The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (which, by the way, is really written by Irving under a pseudonym).

Got it?

By the time the story of Sleepy Hollow gets to us, it has gone through a lot of he-said-she-said, and it's something like an urban legend. With so many layers of removal, it's tough to believe anything that is happening.

Want some icing with that cake? Because the story is told in third person objective point of view (i.e., he/she did this/that and I/we have no opinion about the matter), we're even more distanced from the story. Instead of getting invested in the characters like we would in a really good soap opera, we feel more like an objective observer reading a crime report. Except that we're cracking up.

In addition to the laughing, there's still one problem. Normally, this kind of narration would give us lots of facts to work with. Not the case here. Our narrator doesn't even know what's going on half the time. For example, he doesn't know what Katrina says to Ichabod before he runs off:

What passed at this interview I will not pretend to say, for in fact I do not know. Something, however, I fear me, must have gone wrong. (1.57)

Come on, Knickerbocker!

What's the effect of all this? We have a hard time figuring out the truth. Mission accomplished, Irving.

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