In the story "The Minister's Black Veil," 1. Why do others react the way they do? What does their reaction reveal about their inner character? 2. Does the veil isolate him? Does it make him a...

In the story "The Minister's Black Veil," 1. Why do others react the way they do? What does their reaction reveal about their inner character? 2. Does the veil isolate him? Does it make him a better minister? 3. Does it reflect Dark Romanticism?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. Superficially, members of Mr. Hooper's congregation react the way they do because it is just plain weird to them that their minister, without explanation or warning, simply walks out of his house one day wearing a black veil that covers his face. "[It] seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features." It can be extremely off-putting to speak to someone when one cannot see that person's eyes, but to come face-to-face with one who wishes to conceal his entire face so that an observer cannot see any part of it would feel even stranger. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then obscuring the eyes seems to indicate that the person has something to hide, and this revelation also makes people feel very uncomfortable. One old woman says, "'He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face.'"

In terms of how their reaction reveals their inner character, the subject of Mr. Hooper's sermon that day is particularly illuminating. Its

subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them.  [....] [They] felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought.

And this feeling compels them to stop asking him to dinner, to stop conversing with him in the street. They know that he knows that they have secret sins on their souls, sins that they successfully hide from everyone else but cannot hide -- at least not totally -- from him.

2. The veil absolutely isolates him.  If the thing we fear most is the public revelation of our secret sinful natures, then people would automatically shy away from the person they believe could reveal it. However, it does make him a better minister.  

By the aid of his mysterious emblem -- for there was no other apparent cause -- he became a man of awful power over souls that were in agony for sin. His converts always regarded him with a dread peculiar to themselves, affirming, though by figuratively, that, before he brought them to celestial light, they had been with him behind the black veil. Its gloom, indeed, enabled him to sympathize with all dark affections.

The consciousness that their minister fully understands them because he is like them, for converts who may have led sinful lives, means that they feel a great deal more comfortable with his knowledge of their sins. Because his wearing of the veil is an admission of his own guilt, theirs might seem lessened by comparison. This allows him to be more effective in his job. For others who are not comforted by the knowledge that he is aware of their secret sin, he is, at least, a more compelling figure for his own admission.

3. This story would not fall into the category of Dark Romanticism. Stories that are categorized in this way often present supernatural creatures (i.e. vampires, werewolves, etc.) as illustrative of the dark side of human nature. Further, there is nothing irrational or insane about Mr. Hooper's behavior, so it could not qualify on that front either. Just as Romanticism is more concerned with our capacity for goodness, Dark Romanticism is more concerned with our capacity for evil. This story doesn't shed light on humanity as evil, per se, but just seriously misguided (and perhaps somewhat tortured by our error).

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The Minister's Black Veil

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