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Moral of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Moral of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


In Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the conflict between Enlightenment and Romantic ideals is narrativized. Irving’s story is an exploration of the conflict between these two schools of thought. Irving uses his setting, his characters, and his “moral” (or lack thereof) to critique the Enlightenment. At first reading, “Sleepy Hollow” may seem no more than a dreamy folk tale. But when read in the context of the emerging resistance to Enlightenment thinking, it reveals itself to be a striking denunciation of the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The Age of Enlightenment was characterized by the reign of reason. Enlightenment thinkers believed in the supremacy of reason above all other human faculties, and in the perfectibility of man and therefore society. Scientific understanding and the pursuit of knowledge were key pursuits in this time. Materialism was emphasized as an overt rejection of the superstition of the Middle Ages. The ideals of the Enlightenment were rationality, object...


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...maxim that one can easily digest, he nevertheless infuses his work with a message. If any “moral” could be taken from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” it is that there are some places where reason cannot guide us. The possibility of a place where reason and rationality are no longer useful is a direct and sharp critique of the ideals of the Enlightenment. Through his “tools of the trade” as a storyteller, Irving effectively denounces the limits of Enlightenment thinking, and opens the door for the possibilities of Romanticism and the Gothic.

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