close-up portrait of a figure dressed in black wearing a black veil

The Minister's Black Veil

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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On his death bed, what does Mr. Hooper say he sees on the everyone's faces, and why is this so important to the story of "The Minister's Black Veil" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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As Mr. Hooper is dying in his bed near the end of the story, another minister attempts to remove Mr. Hooper's black veil. He wants people to see Hooper's "triumphant" face as he passes over into eternal life. He also wants whatever Hooper may be hiding by the veil to be lifted from him before passing on to God's judgment. Hooper forcefully grabs the veil and says that he will never remove the veil "on earth." Then in a moment of great strength, Hooper addresses the people in the room around him, and he tells each of them that he sees a black veil on each of their faces.

I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!

This is important to the overall meaning of the story because readers are meant to interpret the veil as a concrete symbol of a person's hidden sins. People sin, and they try to hide it from God and friends alike. Hooper's veil is physically expressing this concept of people trying to hide the sin in themselves. Hooper never comes out and expressly tells people this is what the veil is for; however, on his deathbed, he finally announces to those around him what the veil is symbolic of. The revelation hits the people like a hammer blow because they immediately understand and even fearfully "shrank" away from each other. Hooper knows they finally understand, and he lets a rare smile be seen.

While his auditors shrank from one another, in mutual affright, Father Hooper fell back upon his pillow, a veiled corpse, with a faint smile lingering on the lips.

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When Mr. Hooper is on his deathbed, he looks all around him at the spectators who have gathered. He asks why these people tremble when they look at him when they should be trembling at the sight of one another instead. He finds it ironic that the veil — just a small piece of fabric — makes him seem so terrible, prevents people from taking any pity on him, and compels children to flee from him, as each person in the room also wears a figurative, unseen veil. Mr. Hooper says,

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 lived, and die!  I look around me, and lo! on every visage a Black Veil.

The veil itself is just a symbol. It isn't intrinsically terrible; rather, what it represents frightens people. The people fail to realize the veil's symbolism and fear the veil instead. This is important because Mr. Hooper finally confirms the veil is a symbol of each person's "secret [...] sin," as well as the way we try to hide our sinfulness from everyone else, even our closest friends, spouses, and God. We have many clues about the veil's meaning before now, but Mr. Hooper finally verifies its meaning in these lines.

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