The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
Analysis: Writing Style
Complex, Descriptive, Old-Timey
A simply constructed sentence we rarely do see in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." (Sound weird? Try reading the story.)
The pages of this story are littered with commas, semicolons, dashes, and colons. Some sentences go on for ten lines or more, and the description of Baltus's farm has one sentence that is 149 words long. (Count the number of words in this sentence, and you'll get an idea of what that means.)
Ready for an example? Here goes:
He had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature; he was in form and spirit like a supple-jack—yielding, but tough; though he bent, he never broke; and though he bowed beneath the slightest pressure, yet, the moment it was away—jerk! he was as erect, and carried his head as high as ever. (1.28)
Yikes. The only punctuation this sentence doesn't have is a question mark. Does Irving need to use such a complicated sentence just to tell us that Ichabod will bounce back from pressure? No. Is it more fun this way? Maybe. This style is pretty common for works written in Irving's time, but nowadays it gives the story an old-timey feel.
If you ever need directions to the closest Starbucks, ask Irving. This guy is the king of description. We know every nook and cranny of the Van Tassel abode, and could probably describe Ichabod to the police if we had to (which, let's be honest, we might). Wondering what a beautiful fall day looks like in Sleepy Hollow? Irving's here to help:
It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day, the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.
Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory nuts, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble-field. (1.36)
Hey, you asked. And Irving answered.
In this example, our author uses sight and sound to paint a canvas of a nice autumn day in the countryside. It's just like being in the forest, minus the pollen, the dirt, and the threat of being mauled by a grizzly. Some people might find that Irving's descriptions slow down the story and detract from what little action there is. To them we say, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.