The Minister’s Black Veil

9 September 2016

Hawthorne stories are known to contain elements of mystery and uncertainty that is why his story “the Minster’s Black veil” is best analysed in terms of reader response. Hawthorne chose to not have any direct explanation for the actions of his characters giving it to the readers to interpret the way they wish even if he did have a certain message. The fact that there is no direct and final conclusion to the reason behind the minister’s decision to wear the black veil has caused critics to debate this story through the centuries, resulting in many different theories.

Some have believed that Hooper actually committed a great sin and have debated on what he could have done that was so horrible that he resorted to something as extreme, as wearing this black veil. Others believed that the focus of the story is not on what caused the minister to wear the black veil, but more on the effect the veil has on the minister and the people around him. Some believed that the story was meant to be vague; critics should not be trying to find only one true meaning or message in this story.

There are some critics that dislike the story because of its indirect message which is hard to understand, but most have praised this as one of Hawthorn’s great works. The story begins with the minister appearing before his congregation on a Sunday morning, this is when he is first seen with the black veil, it covers most of his face except the mouth and chin. The town’s people immediately start gossiping, some say that the reverend has gone mad; others believe that he is hiding a shameful sin.

Some readers may believe that the town’s people were right and that the minister was hiding something. The veil covers his eyes; they say that the eyes are a window to the soul so the fact that he is covering them may suggest that he really did comment a sinful act and is trying to hide his shame from the world. In the afternoon Mr. Hooper attends a funeral for a young woman. The Minister leaned over the body; if she was alive she would have been able to see his face, but one mourner claimed that “… the corpse had slightly shuddered… (Hawthorne 4) upon seeing the Ministers face and another mourner claimed “that the minister and the maiden’s spirit were walking hand in hand” (Hawthorne 4). This encounter makes a connection between the women and the minister with could suggest that the reason he is wearing the veil has something to do with her, it also makes the minister a symbol of death and darkness since even the dead shudder at his sight and he is walking hand in hand with a spirit. After this he attains a wedding where he brings a grim atmosphere to what should be a joyous occasion.

Mr. Hooper toasts the couple, but ends up seeing his own reflection in the glass, the sight frightens him and he spills the wine and leaves. All this may lead a reader to believe that he is wearing the veil to hide a secret sin, one so heinous that he would be afraid of his own reflection. Although, many wonder why Mr. Hooper chose to wear the black veil, some readers see that this is not the central point of this story. In fact that’s the point, the town’s people are making it a bigger deal then it is which reflects their inherent sin and hypocritical nature.

While they were spreading rumors about what crime the reverend might have committed, they overlooked their own crimes and sins. The reverend became someone that they called upon during times of need, but was completely avoided during times of joy. He becomes an outcast simply because of this veil, which demonstrates how shallow and unappreciative these people really are. The Minister already symbolizes someone that as to bear the sins of the community since he listens to their confessions.

It could be possible that the minister chose to make the ultimate sacrifice and bear their sins in a visible form. In choosing to do this the community could have understood and appreciate his commitment to faith. This did not happen; instead they gossiped about his sins as if they were much greater than any of theirs and that his outward expression of sin overshadows any of their internal crimes. In the end the minister points out how badly they have treated him and how they neglected their own sins to focus on his.

At his death bed he criticizes the church leaders proclaiming, “When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! On every visage a black veil! ” (Hawthorne 11) All of us have veil, all of us are sinners, but those who judge others for their sins and bring sorrow, isolation and even death are truly sinful, evil and they are the real monsters.

Some may see that the veil symbolizes a mirror, causing the town’s people to be more aware of their own sins when they are around it. Because the veil makes them more aware of their own sinful nature the town’s people became very uncomfortable around it and actively tried to avoid the minister and his black veil. When asked to remove the veil he replays, “There is an hour to come,” said he, “when all of us shall cast aside our veils” (Hawthorne 7). When we are all open with each other and stop judging each other than the veil will no longer be necessary.

This problem never really gets resolved, the town’s people have not repented and they never truly understood. This is shown to us by the minister continuing to cover his face with the veil even after his death. Mr. Hooper serves as a symbol to reflect the actions of his Puritan neighbors and the uncertainty of the ultimate fate. Readers see that Mr. Hooper was fascinated by the idea of secret sin, which kept in secret so long will eventually destroy the sinner. Readers may see the veil as a symbol of isolation. This story shows the effect exclusion has on an individual.

Member of the church attempt to ask the minister to remove the veil, but they have trouble speaking about it when he is around. The only one who is not scared of it is Mr. Hooper’s fiancee Elizabeth; she asks him what the veil means and asks him to take it off so she can see his face. He worries about her leaving and asks her, “Do not desert me, though this veil must be between us here on earth. Be mine, and hereafter there shall be no veil over my face, no darkness between our souls! It is but a mortal veil–it is not for eternity! O! You know not how lonely I am, and how frightened, to be alone behind my black veil.

Do not leave me in this miserable obscurity forever! ” (Hawthorne 8) He asks Elizabeth not to desert him because it’s very lonely behind the veil. She asks again if she can remove the veil, he says no again and she leaves. This can show us how isolated he has become not only being shunned by neighbours, but by the one that was suppose to love him the most no matter what. For the rest of his life, Mr. Hopper continues to be shunned by his neighbors. It hurt him to see children run from him and hear rumors about him committing a horrible crime.

He asks his neighbours, “Why do you tremble at me alone? ” cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. “Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? ” (Hawthorne 11) Many people hide their true selves behind a mask, the reverend outwardly showed this, and because of his ridicule decision he is shunned. The story describes the rest of his life to be very cut off from the rest of the community, but he does have a certain power over them.

There are numerous ways that we can interpret the relationship between the reverent and the town’s people. One case is that we see that the town’s people fear what they don’t know, anything strange or unusual is presumed as evil or madness. At no point in the story did the people stop to think about what the veil is symbolizing, rather they choose to gossip about what Hooper might have done to make him do something like this. They even said, “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face” (Hawthorne 2), they are looking at the veil and undervaluing the man behind it.

This story builds around how an object will affect an individual and the people around him. The object is turned into a symbol, and as its black color suggests it symbolizes mystery and darkness. It implies that the veil is a symbol of the secret sins of humanity, the negative traits that we hide from the rest of the world behind a mask or black veil. This story presents many topics from different points of views engulfed in mysteries and secrets, never presenting a direct answer.

This theme of mystery is shown when they describe the prayer to minister did at a women’s funeral, “It was a tender and heart-dissolving prayer, full of sorrow, yet so imbued with celestial hopes, that the music of a heavenly harp, swept by the fingers of the dead, seemed faintly to be heard among the saddest accents of the minister. ” (Hawthorne 4) It was described in many ways as is this story, many critics site “The Minister’s Black Veil” as one of Hawthorne’s most ambiguous story, presenting several even some contradicting reasons to why the minister is wearing the black veil or what the black veil represents.

The story never fully explained the reason the minister wore the black veil leaving it up to the reader to decide. This story holds many aspects that are common in novel by Hawthorne. The settings and themes are characteristic of his stories, taking place in a Puritan New England, a fascination with sin and evil, transforming an object into a symbol of darkness and some amount of vagueness. Some look at what the veil symbolizes such as the sins of humanity and noting its black color to symbolize obscurity and mystery.

Focusing on the setting and subject, some have found that this story has many biblical references. The results range from does comparing it to Paul’s writing about veils in II Corinthians, relevance to prophets in the Old Testament and others seeing him as a demonic figure that goes against God’s will. Despite the many different interpretation of this story critics generally agree that it was successful.

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The Minister's Black Veil. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved February 22, 2020, from
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