The Minister's Black Veil  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"The Minister's Black Veil" is a short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was first published in the 1836 edition of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, edited by Samuel Goodrich. It later appeared in Twice-Told Tales, a collection of short stories by Hawthorne published in 1837.

Contents

List and analysis of major characters

  • Reverend Hooper (The Minister) A calm and quite unremarkable minister in the small town, he suddenly and without explanation begins to wear a black veil that covers his eyes and nose. This is not met with acceptance in the strictly Puritan community and the townspeople grow frightened of this man they used to trust. His reasons are obscure throughout most of the story and he is a mysterious character both to the reader and the other characters. In general, however, he seems to feel that the veil symbolizes sin and he reminds others that they too are wearing a veil of sorts. He dies without allowing anyone to remove the veil and is buried wearing it.
  • Elizabeth Reverend Hooper’s fiancée until he refused to take the veil off in her presence. She was the only one in the town who was not afraid of him but could not take the fact that he wouldn’t allow her to see his face ever again, especially since she does not fully understand his reasoning. She disappears throughout most of the story after she leaves him but is shown again at the end as being an attendant at his deathbed.
  • Reverend Clark A young minister from Westbury who comes to Reverend Hooper’s deathbed to pray for him. He encourages Hooper to take off the veil before his interment but Hooper shocks him (and everyone else present) with his strength as he refuses to have the veil taken off.
  • The Townspeople The people of the town are highly religious and are nervous about the change in their normally quiet and unassuming minister. They are not accepting of change and act with superstition about the black veil, claiming to witness supernatural events revolving around Hooper. Being fearful of God, however, they put even more stock into Hooper after his transformation and both revere and shun him simultaneously. The only person in town who does not appear to behave in such a way is Elizabeth.

Plot Summary

The story begins with the sexton standing in front of the meeting-house, ringing the bell. He is to stop ringing the bell when the Reverend Mr. Hooper comes into sight. However, the congregation is met with an unusual sight. Mr. Hooper is wearing a black semi-transparent veil that obscures all of his face but his mouth and chin from view. This creates a stir among the townspeople, who begin to speculate about his veil and its meanings.

As he takes the pulpit, Mr. Hooper's sermon is on secret sin and is "tinged, rather more darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr. Hooper's temperament" (Hawthorne 1313). This topic concerns the congregation who fear for their own secret sins as well as their minister's new appearance. After the sermon, a funeral is held for a young lady of the town who has passed away. Mr. Hooper stays for the funeral and continues to wear his now more appropriate veil. It is said that even the dead maiden would not be able to see his face, and if the veil were to blow away, he might be "fearful of her glance" (Hawthorne 1314). Mr. Hooper says a few prayers and the body is carried away. Two of the mourners say that they have had a fancy that "the minister and the maiden's spirit were walking hand in hand" (Hawthorne 1314). That night another occasion arises, this time a joyous one- a wedding. However, Mr. Hooper arrives in his veil again, bringing the atmosphere of the wedding down to gloom.

By the next day, even the local children are talking of the strange change that seems to have come over their minister. Yet, no one is able to ask Mr. Hooper directly about the veil, except for his fiancée Elizabeth. Elizabeth tries to be cheerful and have him take it off. He will not do so, even when they are alone together, nor will he tell her why he wears the veil. Eventually, she gives up and tells him goodbye, breaking off the engagement.

The one positive benefit of the veil is that Mr. Hooper becomes a more efficient clergyman, gaining many converts who feel that they too are behind the black veil with him. Dying sinners call out for him alone. Mr. Hooper lives his life thus, though he is promoted to Father, until his death bed. According to the text, "All through life that piece of crape had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart; and still it lay upon his face, as if to deepen the gloom of his darksome chamber, and shade him from the sunshine of eternity" (Hawthorne 1319).

The Reverend Mr. Clark and Elizabeth come to his death bed. They ask him once again to remove the veil, but he refuses. As he dies, those around him tremble. He tells them in anger not to tremble, not merely for him but for themselves, for they all wear black veils. Father Hooper is buried in his black veil.

Symbols

The black veil is a symbol of secret sin. This could be representative of the secret sin that all men carry in their hearts, or it could be representative of Mr. Hooper's specific sin, adultery. Edgar Allan Poe speculated that Minister Hooper may have had an affair with the young lady who died at the beginning of the story, as this is the first day he wears the veil, "and that a crime of dark dye, (having reference to the young lady) has been committed, is a point which only minds congenial with that of the author will perceive." Also, he is unable to tell his fiancée why he wears the veil due to a vow he has made, and is unwilling to show his face to the young lady even in death. Also, two funeral attendees see a vision of him walking hand in hand with the girl's spirit.

Inspiration

Hawthorne may have been inspired by a true event. A clergyman named Joseph Moody of York, Maine, nicknamed "Handkerchief Moody", accidentally killed a friend when he was a young man and wore a black veil from the man's funeral until his own death.<ref>Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 201. ISBN 086576008X</ref>



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Minister's Black Veil" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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