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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How do the parishioners react to the veil?

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When Mr. Hooper walks past the sexton, he is amazed; then, as he mounts the pulpit with a black veil, his parishioners are astonished, frightened, unnerved, confused, and appalled. Ironically, though, he becomes a man of astonishing power over those in sin who feel they, too, are behind a black veil as they sense that the minister sympathizes with them. 

    Certainly, the congregation of Milford meetinghouse are very uncomfortable with the altered appearance of their minister. While there is wonder among them about the motivations of Mr. Hooper in covering his features except for his mouth and chin, there is a disquieting of their own consciences the more that they regard him because they cannot determine whom he looks at or what his thoughts might be. For example, the physician of the village remarks, "Something must surely be amiss with Mr. Hooper's intellect." Then, when Mr. Hooper attends the funeral of a young lady, his veil falls forward from his face as he bends over the deceased, and his eyes would be visible to the maiden were she alive. Quickly, however, he replaces his veil upon his face. After this action some wonder,

Could Mr. Hooper be fearful of her glance, that he so hastily caught back the black veil? 

    At a wedding when Mr. Hooper raises a glass of wine in a toast the bridegroom and bride, he catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror, and

...the black veil involved his own spirit in the horror with which it overwhelmed all others. His frame shuddered, his lips turned white....and [he] rushed forth into the darkness.    

    This reaction, of course, is disturbing to the other guests. Furthermore, the longer that Mr. Hooper wears this veil, the more alienated he becomes as many avoid his company: After his behavior at the wedding, he is no longer included in such events; children run from him and stories of his effects upon the dead abound. On the other hand, he is called upon by sinners who feel that he brings them "to celestial light," and he is appointed to preach an election sermon. The effect of this sermon is that legislative measures of that year become comparable to the "gloom and piety" of the Puritan times.

    Further, although Mr. Hooper loses his fiancee and the affection of others, he refuses to remove his dark veil--even as he dies. "What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful?" he asks before he dies as he turns his face to those watching him.

    This story clearly reflects the Anti-Transcendentalists' (among whom Hawthorne was a member) belief that people possess the potential for both good and evil.

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