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What can you infer from Elizabeth's talk with Mr. Hooper in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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stephrules29 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 19, 2011 at 5:20 AM via web

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What can you infer from Elizabeth's talk with Mr. Hooper in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 19, 2011 at 5:40 AM (Answer #1)

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Elizabeth, as befitting her role as the fiancée of Mr. Hooper, is at first incredibly loving and accepting of him when she has her first interview in this great story exploring the concept of hidden sin and hypocrisy. Note how she first greets her love when she meets him for the first time with his veil on:

"No," said she aloud, and smiling, "there is nothing terrible in this piece of crape, except that it hides a face which I am always glad to look upon."

Facing his stubborn insistence to not remove the black veil, however, causes her to suspect that the rumours she has heard being circulated around the village are true and that her fiancé has donned the veil as a symbol of some secret sin that he has committed. At last, as she contemplates what else she can do to persuade her lover to remove his veil, despair and terror descends on her:

But, in an instant, as it were, a new feeling took the place of sorrow: Her eyes were fixed insensibly on the black veil, when, like a sudden twilight in the air, its terrors fell around her. She arose, and stood trembling before him.

Something of the meaning of the black veil is grasped by Elizabeth, as she comprehends the separation and hidden sin that it represents. This is what we can infer from this interview, and this is why it is that Elizabeth cannot marry Mr. Hooper and share his sombre view of the world.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 19, 2011 at 5:48 AM (Answer #2)

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From Elizabeth's conversation with Mr. Hooper in The Minister's Black Veil one can make several inferences due to Elizabeth's seemingly huge preoccupation with the situation.

One thing we can infer is that Elizabeth is embarrassed. She mentions that people are already making conjectures and making assumptions of a vile and ugly nature about the reasons behind his decision of wearing the veil. This may show that Elizabeth is both suffering and feeling humiliated by his behavior.

Another thing we can infer is that Elizabeth is a bit traumatized that her fiance, a respected man whom we can assume she is extremely proud to be engaged to, is now the town creep walking around with a weird-looking veil that made people feel quite uneasy.

We can also assume that it must be hard for a woman of Elizabeth's time and place to even admit that her fiance could be hiding some secret sin. Priests and Pastors are often seen as sinless and above reproach. Maybe his rank in the village gave her status as well.  It is safe to assume and infer that it was hard for her to leave the pedestal of being engaged to a man of such caliber, and now she may even become the laughing stock of the village.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:28 AM (Answer #3)

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From the time that he dons the black veil and ascends the pulpit, the congregation of Mr. Hooper becomes unnerved, sensing that  "the minister's veil is a fearful secret between him and them."  However, Hawthorne writes, the fiancee of Mr. Hooper is, at first, "unappalled by the awe which the black veil had impressed" everyone else.  In order to dispel the rumors about the minister, she comes to him:

As his plighted wife, it should be her privilege to know what the black veil concealed.

Like the others of the congregation Mr. Hooper's fiancee, Elizabeth, determines to learn why the minister covers his face so, but he refuses even her, saying that a time will come when they all will cast aside their veils.  Rather abashed by these words, Elizabeth tells him she does not understand, and asks him to at least let the congregation see his face.  Nevertheless, in his "gentle, but unconquerable obstinacy," the minister replies,

If I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enough...and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?"

At this point, "like a sudden twilight in the air, its [the veil's] terror fell around her."  Trembling, from this experience, Elizabeth gives Mr. Hooper a "shuddering gaze."  He asks her, "And do you feel it then, at last?"

Elizabeth senses what the Calvinist/Puritan theology termed the "depravity of man."  In an epiphany of recognition, Elizabeth identifies herself in the community of mankind that is wicked from birth.  Secret sin lies in all, and she is no exception.  The veil between her and the man she has loved can no longer hide from herself her sins, and she shudders at her recognition of her hypocrisy in feeling virtuous as "the horrors" are "drawn darkly between the fondest of lovers."

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