How would you react to the veil as a member of Mr. Hooper's congregation or as a Puritan clergyman?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Puritan times, sin was a constant topic of conversation; in fact, Calvinists of the Puritan era believed that people were predestined by God either to be saved from sin or damned.  With this constant awareness of sin and its threat, not only to one's soul, but also to one's position in the community, the Puritans were often ill at ease around other members of the congregation and their minister in Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil."

Given this environment of suspicion, when Mr. Hooper, the minister himself, dons a veil, the Puritans react in a customary fashion, feeling threatened and deeply disturbed by this gesture. Some suspect that Mr. Hooper has "changed himself into something awful."  Their puzzlement over his action is twofold:  Mr. Hooper may himself be guilty of a specific sin that weighs upon his conscience or that is revealed in his face as a disfigurement, or he wishes to expose the inherent sinfulness of the congregation. The ambiguity of his action would surely cause almost anyone to wonder.  And, it is certainly an inclination of anyone in the Puritan community who has a "secret sin," as Hawthorne calls it, to worry that his/her secret has been discovered.

Whatever the reasons for Mr. Hooper's wearing of the veil, he, too, is also affected since his view of the world is now shaded grey, thus darkening his perspective.  As he becomes alienated from the congregation and his fiancee by his adamant refusal to remove his veil giving rise to even more suspicion of sin on his part, Mr. Hooper's point of view finds only a single focus:  sin.  Added to this Puritan focus, the community's tendency to look outside themselves--to evil forces or beings--instead of acknowledging the potential  for evil within themselves alienates him even further.  For instance, at the funeral for a young lady, people suspect that Mr. Hooper may have had a relationship with the "young maiden," and this is the reason that he hides his face.  Also, "a superstitious old woman" witnesses Mr. Hooper's bending over the corpse; when the veil tips so that his eyes are revealed to the corpse, he hastily catches the veil and returns it, but not before the "corpse had slightly shuddered." 

It is this atmosphere of superstition and fear of condemnation for any sins one has that eventually effects the separation of Mr. Hooper from the community.  Hawthorne's parable exposes these grievous flaws of Puritanism, a religion that in its terrible suspicion of sin and its consequent superstitions generates an evil itself.

mkcapen1's profile pic

mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil" the minister puts on a black veil.  He has always been known as a good man and suddenly he presents his congregation with a sermon about inner sin. 

The veil is symbolic of the sins that we hide inside us.  Each individual is responsible for choosing which sins he commits.  In the time the story was written religion and Puritanism affected everyday life.  people were quick to judge and chastise others for their sins.  This has not changed much. 

If I were to see the minister with the veil, had I lived in the same time of the story, I too may have looked away.  My thoguht process would have probably been influenced by the church and social environment in which I lived. Puritan beliefs and also the inability for people to just ask one another what was going on would have caused me to shape my opinion largely on the social circumstances.  In addition the tremendous reflection of guilt that was placed on men and women for even minor sins would have made me look away fearful of seeing my own sins.

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