The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

What scary elements are there?

compared to the gothic litterature.

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Gothic Elements in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” appears to be a brilliant and vivid example of a Gothic tale. It is overwhelmed with plenty of horror details and mystical events. However, it is still full of Washington Irving’s humour, satire and wit. The bright and humorous beginning of the story turns into a scary and horrifying end. Washington Irving uses a range of devices for creating and enhancing the atmosphere of terror:

The Setting

o Untamed nature – a dense dark forest

Unlike European Gothic writers, who used castles, monasteries, and ruins as backgrounds for their tales, Washington Irving chooses a dark forest as a setting for 'The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow'.

The story takes place on the bank of the Tappan Zee river at a small harbour named Tarry Town which is well-known for its forest as 'one of the quietest places in the whole world'. It is remarkable that at the beginning the forest doesn’t seem to be dangerous in any way, however, at the end of the story it obtains some supernatural power and turns into a kingdom of mystery and evil.

o Colours and light

The most frequently used colours are black and white. They are always contrasted in the legend and have a rather apparent symbolic meaning.

Black represents everything dreadful, gloomy and depressing. It is the symbol of the night with all its enigmas and secrets. In the tale black helps us not only to predict the dismal end of the legend but also to depict the psychological state of the main protagonist – the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, his awe and utter desperation.

White, by contrast, is used to describe daylight, something pleasing and divine. ('whitewashed church', to which Ichabod Crane was rushing, as a symbol of the last hope)

There is little light in the story, everything is dusk, obscure and blurred. However the forest grows more and more gloomy, till pitch darkness falls ('The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky').

o Sounds

Sound is an essential tool for creating the scary atmosphere. Sounds are nice and pleasing at the beginning (the murmur of the brook, 'the low murmur of his pupils' voices, conning over their lessons', 'chanting of psalms'). The silence of the forest that time doesn’t constitute any danger for people.

Yet on the dreadful night of Ichabod’s death the hash of the forest is described as 'dead', and sounds become sharp and shrill. (Ichabod’s whistle, the sweeping of the blast 'through the dry branches')

As Ichabod goes deeper and deeper in the woods, sounds grow more and more vague and distant as if he moved farther and farther away from reality (it was so tranquil that he could hear 'the barking of the watchdog from the opposite shore of the Hudson'). And even when Ichabod made an attempt to produce a sound 'his parched tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and he could not utter a stave'.

o Size of the objects and people

Lofty, large, vast, enormous - these are the descriptions, which the author gives his characters and the objects of the setting to make them unreal.



q Stories in a story

Inside the legend itself we are told a lot of myths and tales by the inhabitants of the Sleepy Hollow. For instance the Sleepy Hollow was believed to be a place that was 'bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson'. Such examples abound in the story (witchcrafts, ghosts, goblins, spirits, haunted houses are constantly mentioned)

q Everything being covered up

Talking about all these stories at the beginning of the tale, Washington Irving names them 'mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness', which assures us that nothing supernatural is going to happen, since this evil doesn’t exist in reality. Yet it goes by the opposite and we meet Galloping Hessian of the Hollow and witness the death of Ichabod Crane. The end of the story is the most perplexing. The author gives us contradicting facts, giving no comments on them. On the one hand, he shows us that the head of Ichabod Crane was found on the bank of the river, and, from the other, refers us to the words of an old farmer, who says that the schoolmaster is still alive. Thus, everything in the story is rather covered up and it is up to the reader to decide what happened in fact.

q Supernatural in its corporeal state

Besides the 'drowsy, dreamy influence' that seemed 'to hang over the land', the 'witchful air' of it, there are other cases in the legend when the supernatural forces appear.

The Headless Horseman is the embodiment of the evil and supernatural power. He is depicted very vividly: 'it stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler'.

An enormous tulip-tree is another supernatural object. Describing it the author uses personification: it 'towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air'.

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