How does reading "The Minister's Black Veil" affect the reader's ability to discover/evaluate "good" or "evil" characters?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having read "The Minister's Black Veil," the reader may find that the demarcations between good and evil are blurred because of the ambiguity of the meaning of the veil. That is, in this parable of Hawthorne's, is the veil worn by Mr. Hooper in order to conceal some secret sin of his own, or is it donned by him in order to force others to confront their own hypocrisy and sin? Or, further, is it worn by Mr. Hooper in order to suggest that all men sin, but these sins are hidden behind a veil of reticence, obedience, or even hypocrisy? 

This powerful symbol of the veil raises many questions in the mind of the reader that certainly translate to real life. For instance, the reader may wonder how far one's identity as "good" of "bad" is dependent upon the interpretation of others since, for example, in "The Minister's Black Veil" the congregation become estranged from Mr. Hooper when he wears the veil because it inspires in them a feeling of dread when it becomes "the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them" as

...not one ventured to put the plain question to Mr. Hooper wherefore [why] he did this thing [wear the veil].

On the other hand, the reaction of others towards a person affects not only them, but it can alter that person's self-perception, again blurring the lines between good and evil. For instance, having been cut off from others by his wearing of the veil, Mr. Hooper finds himself "enveloped" in a cloud of sin and sorrow, a "miserable obscurity" after his fiancee Elizabeth parts from him in her fear and dread of him and herself both.

Thus it seems that at the crux of what is good and what is evil is not a clear and single factor, but is also the perceptions and misconceptions of others as well as those of oneself: "I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!" declares Mr. Hooper before he dies. Much is veiled in ambiguity, even good and evil.

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The Minister's Black Veil

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