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Abandoning The Puritan Past In Irving's The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

1757 words - 7 pages

Abandoning the Puritan Past in Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


One of the first literary movements in America was that of the Puritans.
Their writing was intended to instruct on the glories of God and to
instigate a reader's reflection on his or her place in God's universe.
Nature, in Puritan writing, was a frightening entity. God created nature so
that the Puritans (and others less worthy) could scratch out a living in this
world, but nature was also where spirits, witches, and demons dwelt, waiting
to tempt and afflict the righteous. Many years later, another American
writer came on the literary scene with a much different view of the methods,
inspirations, and purposes of writing. Washington Irving was fascinated in
the realms of the imagination. Folk tales and legends were of great interest
to him. He wrote stories and sketches that took place in both the New World
and the Old and was intrigued by the differences in the scope of imagination
between the inhabitants of Europe and the Puritans of the Americas. The
Puritan's practical and orderly view of the world was not for him. "The
Author's Account of Himself" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" illustrate
Irving's belief that an American author needed to escape the ties of the
Puritan past and let imagination take over if he truly wanted to be an
artist.

From his childhood, Irving was not satisfied by the confines of his
native town. He wandered through the surrounding countryside, learning about
local stories and histories. These local stories did not provide enough
depth of history for Irving and he longed to know more of the world. He
would visit the docks "and watch the parting ships, bound to distant climes:
with what longing eyes would I gaze after their lessening sails, and waft
myself in imagination to the ends of the earth!" (The Author's Account of
Himself)

As he grew older, Irving began to feel that America could be a burden on
an author's imagination. He traveled around parts of the United States and
came to the conclusion that while the land was beautiful its beauty was not
enough to feed the fancy of a writer. An artist, literary or otherwise,
needed the inspiration of the glories of mankind in ages past more than the
simplicity of natural beauty. Irving stated his feelings about the
superiority of Europe over the United States, "I visited various parts of my
own country; and had I been merely a lover of fine scenery, I should have
felt little desire to seek elsewhere its gratification,...never need an
American look beyond his own country for the sublime and beautiful of natural
scenery. But Europe held forth the charms of storied and poetical
association. To escape, in short, the commonplace realities of the present,
and lose myself among the shadowy grandeurs of the past." (The Author's
Account of Himself)

Irving subtly...

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