close-up portrait of a figure dressed in black wearing a black veil

The Minister's Black Veil

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Start Free Trial

How does the quote by "the old lady,” which reads “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face,” makes sense? Think about how you might respond to someone of authority wearing a veil like this.

The old lady's remark in "The Minister's Black Veil" makes sense because humans read so much into the human face. By hiding his facial features, Mr. Hooper becomes something unknown and therefore unsettling.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the story, the clergyman Mr Hooper starts to wear a black veil that stops just above his mouth. It shocks the people in the town who don't quite know what to think about it. Most grow to hate it because it works as a constant reminder of their own sins—often sins that they would rather keep to themselves.

On page 2, the old lady is one of many at the meeting house that comments on Mr Hooper's new appearance. She says "he has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face.”

His veil has become the symbol for all of the congregation's sins that they refuse to let go of or even admit. So in this respect, they are also walking around with a figurative veil covering their face; however, rather than wearing a literal veil, they conceal and deceive in other, more subtle ways.

For many, this pretense is tolerable because it avoids confrontation or open acknowledgement of sin. On the other hand, Mr. Hooper's veil is confrontational because it is hiding what the characters would normally read to come to an opinion about his feelings, making them aware of their own behavior. So the old lady says he has changed into something horrible because he is suddenly something that she can't see properly and therefore can't understand.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team