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The idea behind "The Minister's Black Veil" is a strange one. Instead of preaching a sermon to his congregation every Sunday, this minister takes it into his head to wear a black veil all the time. He is evidently pained by the realization that his position in the community forces him to wear a wise, benevolent, compassionate face which he knows is not a true expression of his inner self. By wearing a black veil he seems to be freeing himself to wear his true face behind the veil. We can only imagine what that true face must look like. Is it cruel? Is it fiendish? Is it like The Picture of Dorian Grey?
Guy De Maupassant wrote:
"Everyone is perfidious, a liar and a phony. Everyone wears a false face."
Nowadays this false face is called a "persona." We try to look the way we would like other people to think we really are. Most of us would like other people to think we are civilized, intelligent, self-possessed, and a few other good things--trustworthy, likeable, whatever. We get so used to hiding behind our personas that we can't even see our true faces when we look in the mirror. This was what was bothering the minister.
But wearing that veil reminded all the other people in his parish that they were wearing false faces. They were all like the characters in Hawthorne's other story, "Young Goodman Brown" who pretended to be upright, peace-loving, pious pillars of the community but were secretly filled with wickedness. So both stories are intended to expose humanity as hypocrites.
Henry James, a great admirer of Hawthorne, wrote that what most appealed to Hawthorne's imagination was
. . . the old secret of mankind in general . . . the secret that we are really not by any means so good as a well-regulated sociiety requires us to appear.
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