What is a parable? How is "The Minister's Black Veil" a parable?

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A parable is defined as a simple story that is used to demonstrate a moral truth or teaching, as defined by the parables that Jesus told in the Gospels. Arguably, it could be stated that this story is rather more complex than a parable, because of its length and also the difficulties in defining with any certainty the meaning of the symbol of the black veil itself, but it is clear that this is a short story that is meant to be didactic, and it is also to be remembered that Jesus famously did not explain all of his parables to his audience, leaving them to wonder about their meaning, in the same way that Hawthorne leaves the reader facing a certain amount of ambiguity as they try to work out the meaning of the symbol of the black veil. The strongest hint that the reader is given about the meaning of this symbol is shown in the final words that Father Hooper utters on his death bed, when others attempt to persuade him to remove his black veil:

When the friend shows his inmost heart to his 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!

This suggests very strongly that what the black veil stood for was the secret sin that lies at the heart of every man and woman, part of the inescapable condition of being human and living in a fallen world that is defined by the sin of Adam and Eve. Hooper suggests that his veil is only an outward, physical symbol of the black veils that all of us wear because of our inability to see or our reluctance to reveal our own sin. He states that when true communication occurs between us and others, then his veil will not be needed. However, because our own individual sin acts as something of a barrier preventing true communication, he sees a black veil on everybody's face, not just his own. This story is therefore like a parable because it teaches us certain truths about the human condition and the meaning of what it is to be human and live in a fallen world.

Read the study guide:
The Minister's Black Veil

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