Do you think that the personal events that Hawthorne experienced with his family's history relate to the meaning of the black veil in this tale?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly the shame of the ignominous behavior of his uncle during the Salem Witchcraft Trials shadowed the conscience of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  But, beyond that, Hawthorne absolutely repudiated the hypocritical character of Puritanism, an unreasonable ideology that permitted no sin, denying people the opportunity for forgiveness. 

Hawthorne's main character in "The Minister's Black Veil," the Reverend Mr. Hooper, dons the veil to demonstrate that everyone has something to hide, so people should be honest about themselves and admit to their shortcomings.  However, the fear of discovery is too great, so the congregation of Mr. Hooper shun him in their discomfiture. Or, they choose to believe that the minister has committed some fault too great to reveal, some fault that shows itself upon his face, a fault that he would hide in his sanctimony just as Hawthorne's uncle hid his in the sanctimonious judgment of witches.

Hawthorne's narrative of the minister who wears a veil, yet smiles beneath it illustrates the poisoning of the soul that occurs with secret sin.  For, not only is the person himself poisoned, but those who come into contact with him are sullied as well as their spiritual vision is darkened.  Once again, Hawthorne creates an ambiguity in his narrative similar to that of "Young Goodman Brown" and other tales.  This ambiguity may reflect Hawthorne's personal ambivalence about his progenitors.

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The Minister's Black Veil

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