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Gender Issues in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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 …

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…ferent gender-based means for telling these stories, and the lack of female voice. These gender issues make it impossible for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to be read as just an innocent tale. A strong female influence and the sharp difference between male and female storytelling in Sleepy Hollow are two important gender issues that ultimately enable the women to control the men and maintain order.

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

A Feminist Perspective of The Lady of Shalott

A Feminist Perspective of The Lady of Shalott

In an essay on feminist criticism, Linda Peterson of Yale University explains how literature can “reflect and shape the attitudes that have held women back” (330). From the viewpoint of a feminist critic, “The Lady of Shalott” provides its reader with an analysis of the Victorian woman’s conflict between her place in the interior, domestic role of society and her desire to break into the exterior, public sphere which generally had been the domain of men. Read as a commentary on women’s roles in Victorian society, “The Lady of Shalott” may be interpreted in different ways. Thus, the speaker’s commentary is ambiguous: Does he seek to reinforce the institution of patriarchal society as he “punishes” the Lady with her death for her venture into the public world of men, or does he sympathize with her yearnings for a more colorful, active life? Close reading reveals more than one possible answer to this question, but the overriding theme seems sympathetic to the Lady. By applying “the feminist critique” (Peterson 333-334) to Tennyson’s famous poem, one may begin to understand how “The Lady of Shalott” not only analyzes, but actually critiques the attitudes that held women back and, in the end, makes a hopeful, less patriarchal statement about the place of women in Victorian society.

As noted in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the Industrial Revolution provided women with opportunities to work outside the home, but it also “presented an increasing challenge to traditional ideas of woman’s sphere” (“Role of Women” 902). The idea of “public and private life as two ‘separate spheres’… inextricably connected either with women or with men” (Gorham 4) had emerged as…

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…ian woman existing, albeit briefly, within the bounds of patriarchal society.


Abrams, M.H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1993.

“The Role of Women in Victorian Life and Literature.” Abrams 902-904.

“The Woman Question.” Abrams 1595-1597.

Gorham, Deborah. The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Martineau, Harriet. “Autobiography.” Abrams 1601-1604.

Mulock, Dinah Maria. “A Woman’s Thoughts About Women.” Abrams 1604- 1606.

Peterson, Linda H. “What Is Feminist Criticism?” Wuthering Heights. Ed. Linda H. Peterson. Boston: Bedford Books, 1992. 330-337.

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. “The Lady of Shalott.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1993. 1059-1063.

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