Analysis of The Romantic Elements In ”Sleepy Hollow” by Peter Lerangis
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In the novel Sleepy Hollow, by Peter Lerangis, several elements of the Romantic period of literature are evident. Themes carry throughout the novel that suggest a strong Romantic influence upon the text. The story is rich in colorful figurative language and contains a spell-binding plot that leaves the reader feeling very satisfied. In the midst of such an enchanting story are the Romantic themes, such as a deep appreciation of nature in conjunction with the condemnation of city life, exaltation of emotion over reason along with the defiance of conventional rules and traditions, and interest in local folk/ethnic culture, while providing the reader with plenty of attention to the supernatural. Each of these elements combines to create a work of traditional Romantic genius.
The author’s appreciation of nature is very evident throughout this story. In the midst of even the darkest of situations, Lerangis is always able to pay attention to the environment which surrounds the characters. In the last scene of the book, and perhaps one of the more terrifying, the characters are shown “landing on the soft Earth”(Lerangis 141). This “soft[ness]” connotes a very positive tone about the Earth, saying that even in the darkest and deadliest of times, the Earth still provides a comfortable and gentle reservoir of hope. The tree which houses the headless horseman is known as “the tree of the dead”(Lerangis 75). Although this tree is physically dead, it is inhabiting a wealth of life. The tree of the dead is a symbol, not only for evil, but for the destruction of nature.
Katrina observes that “the tree bleeds”(Lerangis 74). In doing so, the reader is shown that the destruction of natural beauty has led to the spawning of evil; all of which is embodied by this tree. In conjunction with the particular, attentive presence of nature, is the condemnation of city life. Ichabod represents the hero in this story, and he is the one who makes the transition from city life to the more simple life of the country. Katrina announces the views of her father, and those shared by many. It is true that most of the population of Sleepy Hollow feel that “town and country folk do not mix”(Lerangis 110). It is evident that Ichabod is not wanted in Sleepy Hollow. By the end of the novel, most of the town is protesting his presence, and blames his inappropriate methods on his adaptation to city life. During his experiences in New York city, Ichabod describes the “deafening clamor of a New York morning”(Lerangis 9).
The intended purpose of the first section of the novel is mainly to dissuade the reader of any positive notions related to the city. Lerangis dispels all chance of the reader still appreciating city life after reading these passages, about the inhabitants of the city being driven “more by greed than justice”(Lerangis 9). He adds to the negative images of the city, by making a sharp contrast between city life, and life anywhere else. He makes it seem as though people inhabiting the cities are of another race, adapted to all the horrendous entities that come with living in the city. He makes observations, that set the city folk apart from others, saying that “anyone to used to the ways of New York might think the grounds a mad house”(Lerangis 7). Thus, a very sharp contrast is made between the complicated, dark life in the city, and the gentle, “soft” life of the country around Sleepy Hollow (Lergangis 141).
Aside from the physical aspects of Romanticism, many other elements are present, such as the exaltation of emotion over reason. Ichabod is proven, through the events in the novel, that “nothing is logical. Everything is possible”(Lerangis 123). Before coming to Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod relies heavily on his logical and detective instincts. However, the breakdown of Romantic literature shows that emotional instinct is valued far higher than any sort of logical reason. After being skeptical for such a long period of time, it is surprising that Ichabod even allows himself to believe anything other than the print in his books. It is not until he is given tangible proof of the Hessian’s existence that he believes the tales of the Headless Horseman. It is ironic that for the duration of the beginning of the novel, Crane refuses to allow anyone to speak of such theoretically impossible tales as the tale of the Headless Horseman.
However, after seeing the beast for himself, he is pleading with the people of the town that they “must believe [him],” and that he can assure all of them of the visual contact he made with “a horseman. A dead one. Headless!”(Lerangis 66). With his newfound faith in the credibility of the legends around the hollow, Ichabod decides that all of the logic and reason he had previously relied on are of no use to him. It is ironic that one night’s events have changed his views on reasoning so quickly. Nearing the novel’s end, Ichabod burns all of his ledgers and papers that had held his knowledge over the past several years. In doing so, it is apparent that he has accepted the fact that “sense and knowledge had betrayed him in Sleepy Hollow”(Lerangis 125). Ichabod’s sense and knowledge are personified in this passage to show the reader that two ideals which he had held so close to heart and high in regard had proved to be inadequate.
This further exaggerates the Romantic ideals of the power of emotion over all reason and logic. Along with this newfound reliance on emotion rather than reason is a defiant quality of all formal rules and traditions. All of the other authoritative figures in New York shun Ichabod for his radical ideas and methods of pathology. One of his superiors even goes so far as to claim that his actions are that of a “heathen” and that they should “let him rest in peace-one piece”(Lerangis 8). Later on, however, once free of the restrictions of the city, Crane is able to exercise his own methods of detective work.
After being granted the opportunity to examine the Widow Winship’s headless body, he realizes that the conventional ways of examination would get him nowhere, and “he’d have to resort to more precise methods with his own implements”(Lerangis 48). These methods prove to be very successful because he was able to learn that “the Widow Winship was with child”(Lerangis 50). This type of self-reliance and creative methods of science are the types of elements that Romantic literature relies on. It is very evident that Ichabod was able to break free of the conventional methods and rules, which is yet another reason why this novel is an exceptional instance of Romantic literature.
In all Romantic literature, and especially in Sleepy Hollow, there is always a stark interest in the folk culture of an area. The townspeople of Sleepy Hollow rely on these takes, not only as a method of entertainment and storytelling, but as a way of life. These stories, as the reader eventually learns, are all the products of truth. This is one reason why the author’s attentiveness to these tales is so important to the development of the story. Right from the very beginning of the novel, the first tale is introduced. Ichabod is witness to Baltus Van Tassel “settl[ing] back to tell the story of the headless horseman.”(Lerangis 24). This is the story that sets the stage for the rest of the novel. This particular instance of folk tale is important because the headless horseman is not only a symbol of evil and of hell, but also of the sins of the people inhabiting Sleepy Hollow.
The horseman’s purpose is solely to kill. However, it is symbolic in that he represents all of the sin committed by the people of that town. Ichabod confirms this, saying that Widow Winship’s murder was “a symbolic murder,” because the sword was thrust in to the womb after her death. This was done to symbolically prevent all chances of the sin growing and living. Since the child was created out of sin, it was killed as a preventative method and out of irony. After hearing the story of how the headless horseman came into existence, Icabod deduces that the story he was just witness to is nothing more than “a local tale about a long bygone incident”(Lerangis 27). However, this statement is ironic, because not only is the incident very much alive, but Ichabod, himself, will witness the embodied tale first hand. Another example of this local culture is the tale of the “Witch of the Western Woods”(Lerangis 72). This tale was meant to frighten, but is also based on truth. This witch ends up being one of Ichabod’s best allies in his search for the Hessian. She is able to offer him the location of the tree of death, and point him in the right direction.
Again, as a theme of folk tales in this novel, her existence is based upon a specific element of truth. “the old Crone,” as she is often referred to, turns out to be nothing more than Lady Van Tassel’s estranged sister(Lerangis 73). It is obvious to see that all of the myths and legends surrounding sleepy hollow connect back to simple elements of forgotten truth. The ethnic views of the area are also an important part of Romantic literature. Before even coming to Sleepy Hollow, he views the locale as full of “farmers and dirt roads”(Lerangis 13). However, contrary to his expectations, he finds that the hollow is home to so much more than simple entities such as these. The author also does an outstanding job of emphasizing the supernatural. The whole novel is based upon the presence of the supernatural. Even Katrina employs faith in magic and conjurations. Ichabod returns to the spot where “he’d first seen her conjuring magic,” and finds her busy with spells and chants yet again (Lerangis 116).
The whole community relies heavily on the belief in magic and the supernatural. The Hessian, himself, is the embodiment of these beliefs in the unknown. Although Ichabod refuses to believe in such ideas, he is subject to much of this magic. Jacob Masbath is certain that all of the misfortune the falls upon Ichabod is the work of “someone casting a spell against [him]”(Lerangis 111). The process of summoning the Headless Horseman to perform Lady Van Tassel is the product of major supernatural activity. Generally, in Romantic literature, supernatural activity is used to communicate that something is morally wrong in the realm of men. The town of Sleepy Hollow could not be a better example of this concept. A place so active in supernatural activity must be very morally corrupt. These elements of supernatural interest and attention to ethnic culture are just more examples of how Sleepy Hollow defines Romantic literature.
Many elements combine to form the ideals of Romantic literature. A vast majority of these elements are present in Sleepy Hollow. The tale of Ichabod Crane is one that invokes both fear and passion in the reader. Through Lerangis’ use of figurative language and his employment of Romantic elements, he is able to draw sharp contrasts between city and country, defy traditional rules and exalt emotional instincts, and pay specific attention to the supernatural and specific folk tales. The text is so rich in Romantic style, that is simple for the reader to see that Sleepy Hollow is truly one of the cornerstones of Romantic literature.