Of course, the central symbol of Hawthorne's story is Mr. Hooper's black veil, which represents the "shadow" that each man creates in order to hide his own secret sins. However, as the narrator of Hawthorne's story observes, "the saddest of all prisons" is a person's "own heart." For, enclosed in the heart are the guilty secrets that a person would hide from others, yet he cannot hide them from himself.
Because each person is always aware of his own secret sins, there is a visage that the sinner must wear to the public. When Mr. Hooper dons his black veil, the sinners imagine their own faces wearing a hidden look that he may be able to comprehend. Thus, they begin to avoid him, fearing that in Mr. Hooper's exposing the sign of his own shame and grief to society, he is forcing them to become aware of their own sins. Here are three faults that the townspeople possess:
- Members of Mr. Hooper's congregation are hypocritical as they purport to be practicing Christians, but they alienate the minister and treat him in an unChristian manner and they hope to hide their sins from God.
- Out of fear that he will detect her own sins, and that she will also be isolated if she marries Mr. Hooper, Elizabeth abandons the minister.
- They want him to confess his sins and why he wears the veil while refusing to admit theirs. On his deathbed, Mr. Hooper tells his listeners,
What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the firend shows his inmost heart to his friend;...when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator,...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!"
Hypocritical actions, such as isolating the minister, fear, and a creation of separate standards for the minister than those they set for themselves are the faults of Mr. Hooper's congregation, faults that he wishes them to admit, and then he will remove his veil.