In Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," what reason does Mr. Hooper give Elizabeth for wearing the veil?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The discussion between the Minister and his fiancee Elizabeth is the longest scene in the story and deals more directly with the question of why he is wearing his black veil than any other scene. He implores her not to abandon him, but he tells her that he is sworn to wear the veil for the rest of his life and cannot show his face even to her. He never gives her a candid explanation of what the veil symbolizes or why he is wearing it. He only suggests ambiguous possibilities which show by their phraseology that he either doesn't know why he is doing what he is doing, or else that he is not willing to reveal his secret even to her. For example, he begins two sentences with the word "If" and includes another "if" in one of those sentences:

"If it be a sign of mourning," replied Mr. Hooper, "I perhaps, like most other mortals, have sorrows dark enough to be typified by a black veil."

"If I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enough . . . and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?"

Obviously everybody in the story is going to be left guessing, and this suggests that Hawthorne fully intended to leave the reader guessing as well. The question most frequently asked about this story is "Why is the minister wearing that black veil?" But the real definitive reason or reasons will never be known.