In Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," does Reverend Hooper make a mistake by not telling his congregation what his veil symbolizes?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, it is the very ambiguity of the black veil that the Reverend Mr. Hooper dons that generates the conflicts in Hawthorne's short story.  And, it is this ambiguity that is the crux of Puritanism, Hawthorne seems to tell his reader in many of his narratives, such as "Young Goodman Brown" and The Scarlet Letter. For, there are no absolutes to "the elect" and "the damned" as the Puritan ideology would have its followers believe.

Considering, then, the subtitle of Hawthorne's short story, "A Paradigm," Mr. Hooper essays to provide a model for his congregation.  When the Reverend Mr. Clark who attends the dying Reverend Hooper asks the minister to finally remove his veil and reaches down to take it, misunderstanding Mr. Hooper's ambiguous response.  But, Hooper clutches it to his face.

"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 crepe so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when a 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!'’’

It is this theme of secret sin that Hawthorne conveys with the ambiguity of the black veil.  The human weakness that all share is often veiled with hypocrisy and sanctimony. Each must examine his/her own conscience for the secrets within, Mr. Hooper tells his listeners--just as he has awakened himself when he shudders and clutches his veil to himself one time when he bends over--and not accept the doctrines of their Puritanism as sacrosanct and hide their hearts behind it. Truly, Mr. Hooper makes no mistake in not revealing the significance of his veil, for each man must resolve the conflicts of conscience for himself.






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The Minister's Black Veil

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