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

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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,...


... middle of paper ...


... his view of nature. He feared
nature when it was untamed and looked to it to satisfy his appetites when it
was tamed. Brom, who was comfortable in both tamed and untamed nature and
was at ease with the realms of imagination, symbolized a break from the
Puritan tradition. His rough chivalry even suggested a connection with the
glory days of knights in Europe. When Brom Bones triumphed over Icabod
Crane, Irving was subtly giving notice that he was going to follow his advice
from "The Author' Account of Himself": he was going to shake the dust of
America (and the Puritan past) off of his feet and reach for the historical
and artistic treasures of Europe.

Work Cited

Irving Washington. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 5th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.


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