Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil" is, like his novel The Scarlet Letter, an expose of the hypocrisy of the Puritans and the destructive power of secret sin. Thus, the action that is pivotal to the plot is, of course, the donning of the dark veil over his face by the Reverend Mr. Hooper. From this action, all reactions follow.
- There are mixed reactions from the congregation after Mr. Hooper's sermon about secret sin :
At the close of the services the people hurried out with indecorous confusion....Some gathered in little circles...with their mouths all whispering in the center; some went homeward alone, warapped in silent meditation; some talked loudly and profaned the Sabbath day with ostentatious laghter. a few shook their sagacious heads, intimating that they could penetrate the mystery, while one or two affirmed that there was no mystery at all.
- For the first time, no one invites Mr. Hooper to partake of the Sunday meal at his/her home.
- When Mr. Hooper does not remove the veil, people begin to believe that he may be hiding something, yet no one "chose to make the black veil a subject of friendly remonstrance." The veil becomes a "symbol of a fearful secret between him and them."
- Even his fiancee has doubts.When Mr. Hooper refuses to lift the veil and let her look in his face, Elizabeth bids him farewell.
- After this incident, no attempts are made to lift what Mr. Hooper has called but a "mortal veil--it is not for eternity." No one seeks to discover the secret which it supposedly hides.
- As Mr. Hooper walks the streets, the timid turn aside and flee. Others of "hardihood" would throw themselves in his way. Children would hide; a "fable went the rounds, that the stare of the dead people drove him thence."
- Affected with an "ambiguity of sin or sorrow, which enveloped the poor minister so that love or sympathy could never reach him." He is ostracized from the community.
- But, he becomes "a man of awful power over souls that were in agony for sin. His converts tell him that before they have been brought to the "celestial light," they, too, hid behind a "veil."
- He is given the honor of preaching at Election Day as he sets the tone appropriate for the Puritan occasion.
- Mr. Hooper spends his long life "irreproachable in outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicions"; he is unloved and dreaded.
- As he lies dying, the Reverend Mr. Hooper yet refuses to lift his veil so that he should not "leave a shadow on his memory," as another minister beseeches him. Before he dies Mr. Hooper states Hawthorne's theme,
"Why do you tremble at me alone?....Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and chren screamed and fled, only for my black veil?...When the friend shows his inmost heart tohis friend, the lover to his best-beloved; when 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!"
- The villagers bury the Reverend Mr. Hooper without removing his black veil.