In "The Minister's Black Veil" what did Mr. Hopper see when he looked into the burial ground?  

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil" , we find that the sudden donning of a crepe piece of black cloth has caused a major controversy among Mr. Hopper's faithful parishioners.

Mr. Hopper is an otherwise young man who is dedicated to the service of God and is admired by his flock, as well as by his bride to be, Elizabeth. One day, and out of nowhere, he decides to cover his face for good in an attempt to make a statement on the reality of people's outer masking of their own sins. He does this by placing a veil across his face, and ensuring that nobody else can see his face never again.

As a result, the natural reaction of his followers is to tempt the moment to come across their minister and try to see if he is hiding anything in particular. For this reason, Mr. Hopper had to avoid going by the burial grounds, which is one of his favorite routes to walk.

The impertinence of the latter class compelled him to give up his customary walk at sunset to the burial ground; for when he leaned pensively over the gate, there would always be faces behind the gravestones, peeping at his black veil. A fable went the rounds that the stare of the dead people drove him thence. It grieved him, to the very depth of his kind heart, to observe how the children fled from his approach, breaking up their merriest sports, while his melancholy figure was yet afar off.

Basically, the sight at the burial grounds is that of children running away from him as if he were a bad person. His veil is meant to convey one message but he realizes that it is sending a separate message to children, who do not understand the depth of what the minister's message tries to be: All that the minister wants is to serve as an example. He wants to show everyone that everybody has a black or dark side. He is showing his, symbolically, as a symbol of open honesty of the heart. Additionally he judges those who do not come forward and admit to their inner demons. However, the goodness of the minister's heart is what makes him feel bothered that children are running away from him.

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The Minister's Black Veil

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