Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In “The Minister’s Black Veil,” Hawthorne presents another variation on his favorite theme: that humankind is universally afflicted with the so-called seven deadly sins (pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth). Like all Hawthorne’s short stories, it displays the author’s vivid imagination. It also shows exceptional artistry. Whereas in “Young Goodman Brown” Hawthorne tears off people’s masks and exposes their real faces, in “The Minister’s Black Veil” he hides the face of a single character and thereby creates the impression that the exposed faces of all the other characters are actually masked.
“The Minister’s Black Veil” lacks the relieving humor of stories such as “Wakefield,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” Consequently, the single effect it produces by its overall mood is unremittingly grim and unpleasant. It is hard to sympathize with any man who would choose to wear a black veil all of his life, even to bed, and it is certainly easy to understand why his horrified fiancé would decide to reject him. The story is interesting mainly because the minister is an obvious precursor of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale in Hawthorne’s most famous work, the novel The Scarlet Letter.
(The entire section is 202 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A church sexton is ringing a bell, summoning people of the village to church. He customarily stops ringing when he sees Reverend Mr. Hooper leave his house, but this Sabbath morning the sexton is astonished at the sight of the minister. A thirty-year-old bachelor, Parson Hooper is wearing a black veil made of two folds of crape that conceal all features except his mouth and chin. He can see through the veil, but it darkens everything he sees.
The people murmur about Hooper’s dreadfully changed appearance, questioning if it is truly his face behind the veil or if he has lost his sanity. When Hooper walks to the pulpit, all eyes fixate on the black veil. His sermon topic concerns the secret sins that people hide from their closest associations, even from their own consciousness, forgetting that God is omniscient. The melancholy black veil makes his sermon seem more powerful, much more so than his normally mild, calm preaching style.
Isolation is immediate. No one walks by the reverend’s side; even old Squire Saunders, who generally invites Hooper to his table each Sunday, fails to do so today. The pastor smiles sadly at the thought that two small pieces of material produce such negative reactions. One woman, thinking the veil has transformed him into a ghost, tells her husband she would not be alone with Hooper for any price; she surmises he is probably afraid to be alone.
In the afternoon, a funeral for a young woman initiates...
(The entire section is 978 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
One Sunday, at the early morning service, the Reverend Mr. Hooper appears before his congregation wearing a black veil that extends from his forehead down over his mouth. The parishioners are shocked; some suggest that he has gone mad, and others speculate that perhaps the veiled figure is not the Reverend Mr. Hooper at all. What is clear, however, is that the veil has a tremendous impact on the congregation. Women with weak nerves must leave the service. Old Squire Saunders, who ordinarily invites the Reverend Mr. Hooper to dinner after the service, even forgets to extend his invitation. That afternoon, the Reverend Mr. Hooper conducts a funeral service for a young lady, and the veil again affects his audience. A “superstitious old woman” supposes that when the Reverend Mr. Hooper bends over the coffin, the corpse of the young lady shudders as his face is slightly unveiled, and two of the mourners in the procession to the grave say that they saw the spirits of the minister and the maiden walking hand in hand.
Finally, that night, Milford’s handsomest young couple are married by the minister, and his veil casts a pall over the whole ceremony. When the Reverend Mr. Hooper catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror at the reception, he shudders and spills some wedding wine on the carpet, then leaves abruptly.
By morning, the minister’s black veil is the central topic of conversation in the village of Milford, and it seems that no one can...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
Part I: Hooper Dons the Veil
As the story opens, the congregation of a small church in Milford, Connecticut is arriving in their best clothes to attend Sunday service. The sexton, a person responsible for maintaining the church, is ringing the bell that announces the service will soon begin. His ringing stops abruptly when he is startled by the Reverend Mr. Hooper emerging from his quarters with a veil of black crepe that covers his whole face and leaves only his mouth and chin exposed.
In the minds of the parishioners, Mr. Hooper is a young and self-disciplined parson who has never acted irrationally before. They are bewildered by his present behavior, believing that either he has lost his wits or he has committed some terrible sin. An excited hush greets Mr. Hooper as he walks to the pulpit. He has never been a terribly effective orator, but, on this day, he delivers a sermon concerning ‘‘secret sins’’ that every man harbors and would hide from his fellow man and even God Himself. The congregation is dramatically moved by the combination of the sermon and the inexplicable black veil, each parishioner feeling as if Mr. Hooper has penetrated to his or her very soul. They cannot wait to flee the oppressive atmosphere of the church and feel the bright sunshine outside. No one wants to walk with Mr. Hooper, and one of the parishioners who always invites Mr. Hooper to dinner fails to do so on this occasion. As the Reverend Mr. Hooper...
(The entire section is 1301 words.)