What explanation does Mr. Hooper give Elizabeth as to why he refuses to remove his veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?
When his fiancée Elizabeth asks Mr. Hooper to remove his veil because there may be "whispers" that he hides "under the consciousness of secret sin" rather than the "type of an innocent sorrow," as he claims, the minister smiles a sad, obscure smile and responds,
"There is an hour to come," said he, "when all of us shall cast aside our veils. Take it not amiss, beloved friend, if I wear this piece of crape till then."
Refusing to remove his mask until others remove their figurative masks and become honest about their sins, Mr. Hooper seems committed to getting people to acknowledge their humanity and their faults, a true challenge for Puritans for whom such exposure can lead to condemnation as they may be thought of as among the Unregenerate. No matter whatever his true intent is, Mr. Hooper clearly wishes to teach a moral lesson by wearing the black veil as a symbol that each man and woman can interpret according to their own consciences.
His act is certainly an honorable one as he is willing to be ostracized by members of the community who become uncomfortable when they cannot read what is on his own face and fear what he may know.
Elizabeth, who is not afraid of the veil at first, finally cannot tolerate it any longer and asks him to remove it. When he refuses, he says he has vowed to wear it forever, as a "type and symbol". He explains the veil could also serve as either a symbol of mourning or a symbol of sorrow for the secret sin that he's accused of hiding. Of course, there has been all kinds of gossip as to why he's wearing the veil, and he is saddened that the veil would have such an effect.
The veil is a symbol of the mask we all wear to hide our deepest, darkest secrets and desires. He accuses all men of hiding under their own "veils" from God and other men. He views this as a sin or at least a weakness of mankind. At the end, when Hooper is dying, he asks that the other not judge him until they have examined their own consciences and found themselves free of sin. I am reminded of the Biblical verse that says, "Let those who are without sin cast the first stone." Hooper feels he has admitted his sin openly by wearing the veil while others wear a veil on their souls. He says it is human nature for us to commit and then try to hide our sins.
When Elizabeth, Mr. Hooper's fiancee, asks him to remove the veil and explain to her why he put it on in the first place, he responds that he cannot. When he refuses to remove the veil, she presses him to at least explain himself, to "remove the mystery from his words". The minister says only that he has vowed to wear the veil forever, as "a type and symbol", and as she receives his explanation, Elizabeth is suddenly stricken with a sense of the symbolic horror of his act. By refusing to let go of the black veil, Mr. Hooper is in essence displaying his willingness to give up even the most precious of human relationships, a relationship of love.
Mr. Hooper's black veil is symbolic of the masks all men wear to hide their innermost secrets and desires. Just as the veil has the power to destroy the sacred relationship he might have had with his fiancee, so do the masks that all men wear have the potential to ruin their relationships with those around them in their lives.