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 does Hawthorne describe the veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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Hawthorne describes Reverend Hooper's black veil as a two-fold piece of black crape that hangs from his forehead to the top of his mouth, where it is noticeably shaken by his breath whenever he speaks. The black veil covers his entire visage, with the exception of his mouth and chin. Hawthorne also mentions that Rev. Hooper's sight is not impaired by the black crape, and he is able to see everything around him, with a "darkened aspect." Hooper's black veil is also described as being perceived as a "gloomy shade," which startles his congregation and his closest friends. Rumors surrounding the reasoning behind the reverend's black veil quickly spread throughout the community, and Hooper becomes a relative outcast for wearing the ominous piece of crape. Hooper's black veil symbolically represents the various ways sinners conceal their private transgressions and put on a metaphorical mask of righteousness in public. Hooper suffers from loneliness and rejection as a result of wearing the black veil but refuses to remove the dark piece of crape even on his deathbed.

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The veil is described as,"Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath. . . On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things."  It is also described as a "gloomy shade." One parishioner says that, "He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face."

The veil becomes a symbol for the guilt and sin that Reverend Hooper wants to hide from his congregation.  He can't face the sin he committed with a young woman and hides under a mask lest other's detect something in his eyes.  The veil becomes a much talked about phenomena in the town.  It scares children and creates distance between the Reverend and his congregation.  The Reverend dies and is buried with the veil on after he declares that the veil is a representative of the sins man hides from each other and God.

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