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Pajak, E.F. (1981). Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane: American Narcissus. Am. Imago, 38:127-135.

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(1981). American Imago, 38(1):127-135

Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane: American Narcissus

Edward F. Pajak, Ph.D.

The writing of Washington Irving exhibits a modern concern with change and infantile self-love. This article interprets one of Irving's better known works, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” as narcissistic regression and as a variation of the Narcissus myth.

The main themes of the Narcissus myth are recognizable in “Sleepy Hollow,” such as rejected courtship, hunger and thirst in the presence of bountiful plenty, illusion, and death; but these elements appear in altered form.

The very name, “Sleepy Hollow,” the setting of the story, suggests reference to the womb. This valley is repeatedly described as a place of uniform tranquility and overwhelming abundance. Irving locates Sleepy Hollow just outside of “Tarry Town,” a name derived, we are told, from the tendency of local male inhabitants to linger at the tavern.

Foreboding pervades Sleepy Hollow, despite its attractiveness, and the author explains that anyone who spends time in the valley inevitably falls into a kind of somnambulent stupor and soon becomes afflicted with various visual and auditory hallucinations, the foremost of which is a headless Hessian trooper on horseback. A peculiar mixture of homey comfort and malevolence such as this is precisely what Freud points to in his essay on “The Uncanny” in the meaning of the German word “heimlich.” A similar disquieting stillness is evident in Ovid's description of the secluded forest glen where Narcissus views his reflection.


1 Springer, H. “Introduction to Rip Van Winkle & The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” (1974), in A. B. Meyers (Ed.) A Century of Commentary on the Works of Washington Irving. Tarrytown, New York: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976.

2 Irving, Washington. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in A. McC. Fox, (Ed.) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: Washington Square Press, 1976. Originally published under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon in The Sketchbook, Vol. II, London: John Murray, 1819.

3 Vinge, L.: The Narcissus Theme in Western European Literature Up To the Early 19th Century. Lund Gleerups, 1967, p. 329.

4 Freud, S. “The ‘Uncanny’,” Standard Edition, 17.

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