How is anti-transcendentalism reflected in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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

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Anti-transcendentalism, also known as dark romanticism, was a very pessimistic philosophical view of literature that stood in contrast to the views of transcendentalists such as Emerson, who were very optimistic about human nature. The central ideas of dark romanticism can be seen in this story through the insistence on human sin and guilt that impacts all characters. The story paints quite a sober picture about humans and the way that, even the best of humans, are tainted by sin. Note what Mr. Hooper says before dying when they try to remove his veil at the end of the story:

"Why do you tremble at me alone?" cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!"

This last speech he makes before dying clearly points towards the symbolic meaning of the black veil. It is shown to represent the secret sin that acts as a barrier between us all. Symbolically, therefore, Mr. Hooper is able to look at everyone around him and see a black veil on their faces too. All he has done is gone one step further and placed a literal veil over his face to represent the sin that all humans suffer from. Such a pessimistic view of humanity fits perfectly with anti-transcendentalist beliefs about humans.