How does Nathaniel Hawthorne use Transendentalism in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The great Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who held that each individual can reach higher truths through intuition, wrote that "nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind"; Emerson also stated, "Insist on yourself; never imitate."  Thus, individualism is an important aspect of Transcendentalism as is the arrival at spiritual truths through intuition.  The individuals who called themselves Transcendentalists believed in human perfectibility, and they worked to achieve this goal.

Representative of the Transcendental ideology, the very individualistic Reverend Mr. Hooper, who has donned the black veil and given his sermon on secret sin, strives to exemplify how men and women can discover spiritual truths by looking inward, and thereby achieve human perfectibility.  With the veil over his face, members of the congregation cannot view him, so they must look inward; without a face to see, they must communicate with their spiritual selves, thus learning. Hooper expresses this existential aloneness when he tells his fiancee, Elizabeth,

It is but a mortal veil--it is not for eternity!  Oh! you know not how lonely I am, and how frightened to be alone behind my black veil.

Yet, in his desire to get others to arrive at spiritual truths, the minister refuses to remove his veil, even on his deathbed, hoping that others will "insist upon being [themselves]":

When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend, the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainl shrink from the eye of his Creator.... 

Individualistic, searching for higher spiritual truths, the Reverend Mr. Hooper, much like the Transcendentalist, summons others to look behind their own created veils and find their true souls.

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The Minister's Black Veil

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