In Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "The Minister's Black Veil", The Reverend Mr. Hooper decides to don a black crepe veil that only allows the parishioners to see his mouth move.
This is a pretty strange and creepy move from an otherwise straight and dignified man. Especially one who is young, well-respected in his church community and who is even engaged to be married. What would the flock think? Why does he make this choice? What would his fiancee say?
During the first sermon with the veil on, Mr. Hooper talks about secret sins, that is, about everybody's capacity to lead a life of sin. This life of sin is kept by all of us under a veil of silence, hypocrisy, and obedience. Underneath this veil, there are all seven sins awaiting to pounce over each of us under the secrecy of the masks that we all wear.
This is the basic moral that we get from the decision of wearing the black veil, as well as from the story, itself. Hawthorne creates a character that stubbornly chooses to distance himself from society in order to demonstrate the way in which our masks distance us from each other. What lurks within our souls is, basically, despicable. Hiding it, however, while showing a face of purity, is a direct insult to God and others. The basic idea that Hooper tries to instill is: admit that you all wear masks and admit that they hide your sins.
"Why do you tremble at me alone?' [..] 'Tremble also at each other! [..]What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crepe so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when a 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!
Granted, this story never really appeases the reader. It is as if there is not enough substance in Hooper's argument. More questions are asked, than answers are given. However we can conclude that the themes that can be understood are:
- The reality of human sin versus our inability to admit it.
- Loneliness and isolation as a result of sin.
- The capability of hypocrisy, even from so called "church-going people".
- The horrid reality of moral sin and how it "darkens" our existence the way that the veil, which represents sin, darkens Mr. Hooper's view of life.