Comparison and Contrast of Washington Irving’s “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Devil and Tom Walker”. On character, setting, and conflicts. compare evils of two stories through the actions of the Devil and Horseman.
Washington Irving’s purpose for writing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Devil and Tom Walker was not merely tell tales of communities and their problems with outsiders or the uncommon, but to enlighten his readers of a different type of character that becomes more relevant as time slowly marches on. Washington Irving’s similarities in these two stories’ settings, characters, and conflicts tend to hint upon the evil that begins to take over the world and American Literature. He uses this evil to characterize his subjects, surroundings, and slanders.
Historical and unchanged by time, the settings and communities of these stories, and both have a controlling core of and evident evil. The opening events of The Devil and Tom Walker take place in a “treacherous forest” where “anyone but he (Tom) would have felt unwilling to linger in this lonely, melancholy place”, and as he sat down, “he raked it out of the vegetable mold, and saw a cloven skull, with an Indian tomahawk buried deep in it, lay before him… It was a dreary memento of the fierce struggle that had taken place in the last footholds of the Indian wars”, and the mentioning of ceremonies and murders hint to non- Christian worshipping (Irving, Devil, 352). Tom, knowing the tales of the “old Indian wars, when it was asserted that the savages held incantations here and made sacrifices to the evil spirit”, surprisingly does not get frightened, but able to rest himself from his long walk (Irving, Devil, 352). The “evil spirit” mentioned, obviously means Satan, and symbolizes the form of malevolence that Irving uses to tell of the town’s corruption.
The “sequestered glen that has long been known by the name Sleepy Hollow” is the location for Irving’s “Legend”, and is a “place [that] still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of good people”, and this glen’s “dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander in chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head” (Irving, Legend, 1059). Sleepy Hollow, described here as guided by spells and trances, is “inviting, seductive, and as dangerous to itinerants as the islands of the Sirens or the land of the Lotus- eaters”, and obviously is controlled by some form of evil that is apparent only to outsiders (von Frank, 157). Irving first gives the image of a small settled town, but then shatters this vision with the thought of corrupt practices and now gives the reader a degraded opinion of Sleepy Hollow. As Tom walks again through the forest looking for his missing wife “just in the brown hour of twilight, when the owls began to hoot, and the bats began to flit about, his attention was attracted by a clamor of carrion crows hovering about a cypress tree” and as he looks closer he spots his wife’s apron under the claws of one of the crows (Irving, Devil, 355).
Tom, back in the old Indian fort, the place of the incantations and slayings, and now sees carrion crows who feed on fresh or recently decaying flesh, meaning someone or thing has just died. And something has, his wife has, in this dreadful forest and has added to the dead count of the town. As “the night grew darker and darker”, Ichabod “had never felt so lonely and dismal”, he rides alone on an ominous road toward his home, “in the centre of the road stood and enormous tulip tree… it’s limbs gnarled, and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees… he heard a groan — his teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle; it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they swayed about by the breeze”, as he kept riding he approached a bridge, the very bridge of one of the town’s stories where André was captured (Irving, Legend, 1081-2).
Irving’s description of a night in Sleepy Hollow co-insides with his general description of the town as fearful and haunted, Irving implies that it is fearful to be there at this tome of night. As Ichabod travels on the abandoned road, he fears the night, he thinks he hears a groan on the wind, and this statement validates Irving’s statement at the beginning, “and [they] hear music and voices in the air” (Irving, Legend, 1059). Irving’s settings constantly portray evil practices and atmospheres, whether the whole town or just one tiny piece of land depict this.
Irving’s characters, more often than not, either represent evil or represent “old Scratch” himself (Irving, Devil, 354). Ichabod Crane survives as “tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangles a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels,
and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat on top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose… one might have mistaken him for a the genius of famine descending upon earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield”, Irving pays close attention to his gauntness and his green eyes ( Irving, Legend, 1061). Later in the story Irving comments on Ichabod’s scaring birds away as he rides, ” the frightening of the birds recalls the introduction of Ichabod as in appearance like a ‘scarecrow eloped from a cornfield’ in a way that decisively alters its original comic application, just as the imagined devastation of the farm’s teeming life recalled and deepened the earlier reference to Ichabod as the ‘genius of famine'”, Irving now portrays Ichabod as a representation of evil, famine, and a threaten to civilization (von Frank, 158).
As Irving concentrates on Ichabod’s green eyes, he tells of Ichabod’s attitude as he looks at he Van Tassel residence, “as the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat and rye… heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea… when he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete” ( Irving, Legend, 1067), his green eyes are envy and greed, “this is not envy in the simple sense of wanting what others own but accords rather with the classic conception of the sin of envy in which, perversely, one seeks the annihilation of the object”, Ichabod Crane has the same hate and envy as Satan, he wants to destroy the Van Tassel farm cause he cannot have it, Lucifer wants to over throw heaven and kill God Almighty (von Frank, 159). Irving, in his story The Devil and Tom Walker, uses the Devil himself as a character; here Lucifer says “I go by various names. I am the wild huntsman in some countries; the black miner in others.
In this neighborhood I am he to whom the red men consecrated this spot, and in honor of whom the now and then roasted a white man, by way of sweet- smelling sacrifice… I am the great patron and prompter of slave dealers, and the grand master of the Salem witches… he commonly called Old Scratch” (Irving, Devil, 354). He never says “Satan” or “the Devil”; he never uses the names used for him in scripture, or by the Trinity. Satan, if he, does not want to mention the names that which the holy gave him because of his drastic detestation and resentment of Him. The moral or ethical description of Ichabod Crane further dives into his being malevolent, “he administered justice with discrimination rather than severity; taking the burthen off the backs of the weak, and laying it on those of the strong… but the claims of justice were satisfied, by inflicting a double portion on some little, tough, wrong headed, broad skirted Dutch urchin…all this he called ‘doing his duty by their parents’ and he never inflicted a chastisement without following it by the assurance, so consolatory to the smarting urchin”, he beats those who are tough and discriminators, showing that he has a problem with harassment but not beating(Irving, Legend, 1061-2) .
Crane, a man curious about the abnormal, “was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quit through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed… his appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow”, fascinated by evil and always willing to devour a story or two during his gossip session (Irving, Legend, 1063- 4). Ichabod’s “willingness to flog his students, and particularly the stronger, more threatening children, is consistent with his personal insecurity and impatience with ‘inferiors'”, and this shows that because of his treatment, probably because his dorky appearance, he wants to punish those that abuse kids like him, and his “appetite that prompts him is the sinister elaboration of the early, comic observation that he is a heavy eater though he is very lank, while the transition from the physical fact to its spiritual implication…use of the imagery of gluttony to describe Ichabod’s mental process”, this shows that he can, despite his size, can contain a lot of food as well as elaborate stories (von Frank, 160-1).
Another use of Satan in The Devil and Tom Walker happens when “a black man was holding a black horse which neighed and stamped with impatience… on a horse that galloped like mad across the fields, over the hills, and down in to the black hemlock swamp toward the old Indian fort; and that shortly after a thunderbolt falling in that direction seemed to see the whole forest in a blaze”, and this man carries tom away into the place where Tom had first met the devil on his rendezvous through the forest (Irving, Devil, 359). The devil here, shown as in Revelation; a thief in the night that steals the babe and carries it into the pits of Hell, the devil is a thief, a thief of the souls not adhering to the message of the Bible. The “black man” here is the common thought of the devil, even though he is said to be beautiful and graceful. Irving’s characters are evil, they represent the evil that is in the world or in control of it; they are deceitful and menacing.
Irving’s wicked persona often creates conflict in his parables and often leads in character downfall. The first conflict in The Devil and Tom Walker happens after Tom tells his wife of the offer that he has heard, she approaches Satan to strike a deal of her own and “probably attempted to deal with the black man as she had been accustomed to deal with her husband; but though a female scold is generally considered a match for the devil, yet in this instance she appears to have had the worst of it. She must have died game, however; for it is said Tom noticed many prints of cloven feet stamped upon the tree, and found handfuls of hair that looked as if they had been plucked from the course black shock of the woodman” (Irving, Devil, 356). This little scuffle between the devil and Tom’s wife is the ultimate insult to the attitude and maliciousness of women, saying that women are worse to live with than the devil. The devil, even he has as great an opponent as a woman, still has his way, and triumphs like he always does over man. Ichabod’s conflict in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a great one, “such was the formidable rival with whom Ichabod Crane had to contend (Brom Bones), and, considering all things, a stouter man than he would have shrunk from the competition, and a wiser man would have despaired.
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”, he wouldn’t back down from the conflict, no matter how great the odds (Irving, Legend, 1070). It is said that this story is one “of ancient myths and rites of Greek fertility cults, a comic story of death and rebirth, fertility and immorality. In this reading Brom Bones is a rustic Hercules; Katrina is the corn goddess Demeter; and Ichabod is a parody of the river- god Acheloss- with the brook by the churchyard being the river Styx”, thus saying that because the gods always fight over the goddesses, that Ichabod and Brom represent these gods(Rust).
But the conflict between Ichabod and Brom is easier to understand than that, it is one of the puny versus the big, weak versus strong; Brom, the bully, and Ichabod, the weenie. The next conflict in The Devil and Tom Walker involves both Tom and the Devil, “having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He began, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent churchgoer…the quite Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly traveling Zionward were struck with self- reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by this new- made convert” (Irving, Devil, 358). Even after Tom had “saved his soul” he still had the thought of his going to Hell, so “he always carried a small Bible in his coat pocket”, but when the time came he was forsaken, “he had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat pocket, and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgages he was about to foreclose; never was a sinner so unawares” when the devil came to “have his due” (Irving, Devil, 358-9).
This conflict is the typical one of good, Tom the Christian, versus the evil, the devil; thus giving the story its name. The final conflict in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the one that leads to the death of Ichabod, who is riding home on his noble steed and “beheld something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler”, this rider chased Ichabod down to the bridge of the tale of André, just as Ichabod crossed the bridge and turned around ” then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him”, the head hit Ichabod and he fell to the ground… after diligent investigation they came upon his traces” Ichabod was missing without a trace (Irving, Legend, 1082-5). This rider is the same one of the headless Hessian that entraps the town, it is the evil of the town, and Ichabod’s curiousness of evil and his knowledge of this tale, eventually leads to his death. The quarrel between Ichabod and the object of his inquisitiveness represents the sin of man; man wants it, but it will destroy man.
The settings of Washington Irving’s portray evil in a sense of a controlling chief; it gnarls the whole scenery to fit its purpose. Irving’s characters embody and manifest iniquity so much that they often are Lucifer themselves in a sense. Conflicts in Washington’s tales, often brought about by corruptness of the settings and characters, enslave his characters to the point of their demise. In the stories The Devil and Tom Walker and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, evil is the main focus, and Irving’s use of the evil in every aspect of the story further aids in the explanation of how evil the world is.