In Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", we have this description of Ichabod dancing:

Ichabod prided himself upon his dancing as much as upon his vocal powers. Not a limb, not a fiber about him was idle; and to have seen his loosely hung frame in full motion, and clattering about the room, you would have thought Saint Vitus himself, that blessed patron of the dance, was figuring before you in person. He was the admiration of all the Negroes; who having gathered, of all ages and sizes, from the farm and the neighborhood, stood forming a pyramid of shining black faces at every door and window, gazing with delight at the scene, rolling their white eyeballs, and showing grinning rows of ivory from ear to ear. How could the flogger of urchins be otherwise than animated and joyous? the lady of his heart was his partner in the dance, and smiling graciously in reply to all amorous oglings; while Brom Bones, sorely smitten with love and jealousy, sat brooding by himself in one corner.

Why is Ichabod being referred to as the "flogger of urchins" here in this passage? In this moment, he's about as far removed from his position in the schoolhouse as he can get. His association at the moment should be with "the lady of his heart"; why is "the flogger of urchins" being invoked at the moment?

1 Answer 1


I found this explanation on an external site, Owleyes:

Ichabod Crane is the “flogger of urchins” in that he flogs—or whips—his students, referred to here as “urchins,” a word for mischievous children. This rhetorical question brings to light some of Crane's contradictions; he is both a domineering schoolmaster and a rollicking dancer.

If accurate - and given his former position as a schoolmaster it seems hard to argue - the purpose of referring back to the schoolroom is because it makes a good juxtaposition. On the one hand, Crane is a stern master who whips his charges. On the other he's an active, enthusiastic dancer when trying to impress the object of his desires.

At the same time it's also hard not to read a degree of purposeful comedy into this passage. While Crane believes he is a good dancer and the author does not directly disabuse that notion, the description of his dancing does not conjure fluid, rhythmic movement. Rather it invokes a clumsy dancer who's trying to make up for his lack of skill with sheer enthusiasm and only serving to make things worse. By contrasting this with his harsh behaviour in the classroom it undermines the reader's sympathy with him. Not only does he abuse the children under his care but he's also arrogant about his dancing ability and unaware he's making a fool of himself.

This all helps set Crane up as an antihero. Later we will learn of his cowardice and greed also. This both drives the comic turns of the story and the sense of tragedy as the story moves toward its conclusion.

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