The Minister’s Black Veil is a literary masterpiece and is the story of Parson Hooper, the reverend of Milford who arrives at mass on the Sabbath with a mysterious black veil hiding his face that baffles the townspeople. They express their shock and misgiving when he delivers a sermon on secret sin but the parson continues his duties by celebrating a funeral and a wedding while his veil casts a devastating effect upon his parishioners. During the funeral as he leans over the girl the congregation notices that “the corpse had slightly shuddered, rustling the shroud” and the following festive event of marriage is marked with tension for even Reverend Hooper is terrorized when he lifts the wine glass and sees his frightful reflection. After the events of this Sunday, the inhabitants decide to confront Reverend Hooper about it but strangely no one is able to go up and ask him personally. Even Elizabeth, his fiancée leaves him when he refuses to lift the veil “just once” despite her pleas. The minister becomes a lonely man shunned and feared by his parishioners but becomes highly esteemed in New England. At his deathbed, the Reverend Clark entreats him to let him lift the veil which parson Hooper refuses and with a sad smile he accuses the crowd saying, “I look around and lo! On every visage a Black Veil” and as the minister dies it was “a veiled corpse they bore him to the grave”.
The main objective of the parable is hidden sins and Hawthorne develops this viewpoint through his protagonist and more specifically through the parson’s sermon in which he alludes to a secret sin. The fundamental purpose of the story is the ambivalence of the meaning that the minister’s black veil has on the population’s attitude because the people refuse to consider its symbolic significance. The themes of the story are conveyed through the veil-symbol and its message lies in the physical and mental barrier between the minister and his congregation. The veil conveys guilt and its daunting effect comes from the apprehension that the person behind it can see everything without being seen. Like many writers of his time, Hawthorne affirmed man’s thoughts and feelings that were not discernible and the unifying theme of the story reflected the conflict between the dark, hidden side of man and the standards imposed by his puritanical heritage. Thus this conflict builds up the idea that man has an innate dark side as well as an internalized moralistic side. This story also depicts the elements of the American Romantic movement that acknowledged the individual and was drawn towards death and the supernatural; for these writers generally sought the secrets of the human heart and soul.
The Minister’s Black Veil highlights Puritan beliefs and affirms the hypocrisy and extremities of this movement. The whole theme of the story is the discord between the obscure, hidden side of man and the standards imposed by his puritanical heritage and the psychological and practical implications of this conflict. Hawthorne does not exalt the Puritan lifestyle but condemns a society which is intolerant towards individuals who deviate from the right path.
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