In "The Minister's Black Veil" how does the congregation respond at first to Mr. Hooper's black veil? Why?

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herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The feeling that Nathaniel Hawthorne explains that the congregation first felt is "amazement". He explains that this young, virtuous and religious bachelor who leads his flock with sternness comes out looking as well-dressed and ready to preach as ever. However, the veil in front of his face seems almost as if it's part of his entire wardrobe, which is the main reason why the feelings of fear and weariness start to set in.

The cause of so much amazement may appear sufficiently slight. Mr. Hooper.. was dressed with due clerical neatness... There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil.

The reason behind the amazement, which is later on followed by disdain, is that nobody knows the reason why the minister performs this eccentric action. The children start to fear the minister; the ladies say that they do not like the fact that this man finds it necessary to cover his face; the men are frustrated because the veil causes unnecessary instability in the congregation. Yet, the main reason behind the minister's actions are to show the world their own veil of sin, and to demonstrate that, in the end, we all hide behind a veil of lies.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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At first, the congregation is "wonder-struck" as the Reverend Mr. Hooper greets them on the way to the pulpit inside the church.

In the exposition of "The Minister's Black Veil," the sexton awaits the appearance of the Reverend Hooper so that he can toll the church bell. Soon, he sees the minister appear. It is with "astonishment" that he asks, "But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?" Then, as the minister passes others in the congregation, they are amazed at the sight of his face, which is covered by a dark veil.

A rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon had preceded Mr. Hooper into the meetinghouse....He seemed not fully to partake of the prevailing wonder....That mysterious emblem was never once withdrawn. It shook with his measured threw its obscurity between him and the holy page....Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he was addressing?

Mr. Hooper's veil generates such wonder and mystery that women of delicate natures are forced to leave the meetinghouse lest they faint. Perhaps, too, the "pale-faced" congregation is also a "fearful sight to the minister" as his veil is to them. 

What frightens the congregation is, first of all, the appearance of the minister and their wonder at why Mr. Hooper wears this dark veil over his face. The sexton says that he is unable to believe that Mr. Hooper's face is really behind the black piece of crape. After the parson speaks from the pulpit about "secret sin" and "those sad mysteries" which everyone hides from even their family and friends, the congregation is unnerved and the veil begins to inspire a feeling of dread. Later, they ask if the parson has "gone mad" and why he has transformed himself into "something awful." For, people wonder if Mr. Hooper has done something himself which he wishes to hide, or if he has knowledge of their failings and wishes to hide this awareness.



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