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Who are the characters in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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igopap | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 12, 2009 at 12:47 PM via web

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Who are the characters in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 12, 2009 at 1:07 PM (Answer #1)

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In Hawthorne's enigmatic story, "The Minister's Black Veil," the main character is the Reverend Mr. Hooper, his fiancee is named Elizabeth.  No other character is named other than "Goodman Gray," who is symbolic of all the Puritan men and Mr. Clark.  At the end of the story as Mr. Hooper dies, the Reverend Mr. Clark of Westbury arrives; he is "a young and zealous divine, who had ridden in haste to pray by the bedside of the expiring minister."  In the congregation of Mr. Hooper, there are people referred to in common noun identity as "a faithful woman at his pillow," or "one of the procession," or "a superstitious old woman," or "an old woman." 

This use of few names by Hawthorne suggests the lack of individuality in the congregation; they are but types of Puritans.  Because they lack individuality, they lack the individual strength to respond to the wearing of the veil by Mr. Hooper.  No one will step forward and acknowledge his/her sins.  In fact, they are frightened by the veil that Mr. Hooper has donned.  Perhaps he knows one of their secrets.

But that piece of crape, to their imagination, seemed to hang down before his heart, the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them.

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bank4320 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 12, 2009 at 1:24 PM (Answer #2)

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The most important character in "The Minister's Black Veil" is the Reverend Hooper (the minister of the title); his fiance, Elizabeth, also plays into the story significantly as she, in some ways, personifies or gives a more personal voice to the other characters in the community (like Goodman Gray).  For instance, she tells Hooper that he should do away with the veil "For the sake of his holy office" (1257, Norton Anthology 1998).  Another voice that serves to personify the society--or their values, anyway--is the Reverend Clark.  Of course, the primary antagonist in the short story is the community and, by extension, humanity.  As Hooper proclaims on his death-bed: "'Tremble also for each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil?" (1261, Norton Anthology 1998).

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