Mr. Hooper’s first sermon in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is about the notion of guilt or “secret sin,” a familiar idea in Hawthorne’s work. Hawthorne establishes this theme early on with the minute details that set the scene—specifically, the gossip amongst the villagers and their speculations as to the meaning or significance of the black veil. Their varied remarks essentially pass a kind of judgment upon Mr. Hooper. Notice that Hawthorne does not directly quote the specific words Mr. Hooper delivers during the first sermon; rather, Hawthorne uses description to convey an ominous mood within the meeting-house as the omniscient narrator marks the theme of secret sin using Mr. Hooper’s congregation:
A subtle power was breathed into his words. Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought. (Hawthorne 1313)
The mystery of the veil and Mr. Hooper’s motivation for wearing it reflect a tendency toward ambiguity in Hawthorne’s writing. Here, as in many of the tales (Hawthorne tended to refer to his short fiction as “tales” instead of “short stories”), the ambiguity also helps to communicate the notion of secrecy, of something dark and sinister, as it were.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 7th ed., edited by Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine, and Arnold Krupat, vol. B, Norton, 2007, pp. 1311-1320.