In Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "The Minister's Black Veil," what does the character Mr. Hooper stand for? What is his moral impact? How does this relate to Hawthorne's distinction between the...

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "The Minister's Black Veil," what does the character Mr. Hooper stand for? What is his moral impact? How does this relate to Hawthorne's distinction between the novel and the romance?  

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Nathaniel Hawthorne makes a distinction between the novel and the romance in his preface to his novel The House of the Seven Gables. The Gothic novel, a genre which includes many of Hawthorne's works, had been criticized as consisting of "romances" rather than actual novels due to its lack of realism. Hawthorne rebuts critics of the Gothic by arguing that while the realistic novel deals with fact, in the sense of literal realism with respect to details, the romance deals with truth, something far more profound and philosophical. In  "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne strives for precisely that type of philosophical truth in which the minster's actual veil serves as a metaphor for the veils people wear symbolically, hiding their souls and true natures. 

Mr. Hooper, the minister of the title, is a minister in a New England village. He is mild-mannered and popular, engaged to be married, and on good terms with his congregation. One Sunday, he appears at church wearing a veil over part of his face. This changes the way he is viewed by his congregation. Rather than inspiring friendship, he inspires fear. His fiance leaves him, and people no longer socialize with him, but instead ask for him in extremis. Rather than make people feel comfortable, he raises in them awareness of their own sin and frailty, becoming in many ways a more effective minister. In a certain way, this story recalls Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon ""Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", in the way that it emphasizes preaching as instilling fear and awareness of the precariousness of human life, as opposed to making people feel good about themselves.

On his deathbed, Hooper says:

... [W]hen man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!"

Thus what Hooper symbolizes is the sinfulness of humanity, but rather than hiding sins inside, he makes his own sins visible by means of his veil. On a moral level, this makes people uncomfortably aware of their own sinful nature, which is the first step in repentance.

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