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This is a weird and gloomy story, and it leaves the reader feeling depressed. However, it can be studied for its masterful technique. Hawthorne was an extremely conscientious writer. After graduating from college he spent many years in virtual isolation working to perfect his writing in preparation for a career as a professional free-lance author--one of the first in America.
In "The Minister's Black Veil," one of the best examples of Hawthorne's technical mastery is in the way he handles the passage of time. The story opens with a sense of being in the present, although this is actually the most remote past as far as the total story is concerned. Mr. Hooper appears one Sunday morning wearing a black veil and causing consternation among his parishioners. He preaches a sermon but does not explain why he is wearing the veil. The most significant event in the story occurs when he has a meeting with his fiancee Elizabeth. She beseeches him to remove the veil, at least for her, but he tells her he is resolved to wear it for the rest of his life. Understandably, Elizabeth cannot bear the thought of living with a man who insists on wearing a black veil even to bed. She breaks their engagement and leaves. An entire lifetime passes in this short story. The third important event is Mr. Hooper's death of old age. He is still wearing that black veil, and surprisingly he is being nursed on his deathbed by Elizabeth, who has remained faithful and devoted to him even though they never married. The story is told in the past tense, but the scenes always seem to be taking place in the present.
Hawthorne loved to represent the slow, relentlesss passage of time and the changes that go with it. This can be seen in The Scarlet Letter, but even more strikingly in The House of the Seven Gables, in one chapter of which nothing happens except that the shadows in a room shift from one side to the other as the sun passes over the house and a dead man sits slumped in a chair.
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