Gender Issues in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
At first glance, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving seems to be an innocent tale about a superstitious New England town threatened by a strange new comer, Icabod Crane. However, this descriptive narrative is more than just a simple tale because it addresses several gender issues that deserve attention. The pervasiveness of female influence in Sleepy Hollow and the conflict between male and female storytelling in this Dutch community are two pertinent gender issues that complicate Irving's work and ultimately enable the women of Sleepy Hollow to control the men and maintain order.
Irving's main character, Icabod Crane, causes a stir and disrupts the female order in the Hollow when he arrives from Connecticut. Crane is not only a representative of bustling, practical New England who threatens rural America with his many talents and fortune of knowledge; he is also an intrusive male who threatens the stability of a decidedly female place. By taking a closer look at the stories that circulate though Sleepy Hollow, one can see that Crane's expulsion follows directly from women's cultivation of local folklore. Female-centered Sleepy Hollow, by means of tales revolving around the emasculated, headless "dominant spirit" of region, figuratively neuters threatening masculine invaders like Crane to restore order and ensure the continuance of the old Dutch domesticity and their old wives' tales.
Even though Crane threatens the women of Sleepy Hollow with his intrusiveness and vast knowledge of things beyond the Hollow, he surprisingly associates with them more and with greater ease that with the men of Sleepy Hollow. The "feminine" in Crane is his unmanly, superstitious, trembling, and gullible side. In comparison to another of Irving's works, this female sphere has none of the abrasiveness so blatant in "Rip Van Winkle." We have no shrewish wife, whose death allows for Rip's carefree dotage upon his return to the village. Rather, we are left with a sense of relief at Crane's removal from Sleepy Hollow. Thus the tale presents a stark contrast to "Rip Van Winkle." In that story, women attempt and fail to confront men openly; in Sleepy Hollow, female behavior is much more subversive and effective.
Female behavior in Sleepy Hollow is a result of its feminine setting. Irving's tale preserves the maintenance of the feminine and the landscape is described as having maternal characteristics. For example, Sleepy Hollow lies "in the bosom" of a cove lining the Hudson (Irving 948), and the valley is "embosomed in the great state of New York" (Irving 950). Clearly the repose and security of Sleepy Hollow rest in the maternal landscape - an assumption so pervasive that even our male narrator attests to it. For as he observes, the act of naming falls to women in this Dutch village. For example, "The good house-wives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate...