What is the topic of the first sermon Mr.Hooper gives while wearing the veil?

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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.

Work Cited:

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.

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In "The Minister's Black Veil," Mr. Hooper's first sermon relates to "secret sin." These are the sins that we commit and never reveal to those around us. According to Mr. Hooper, it is foolish to think that God does not know about these sins because, as he makes clear in the sermon, nothing can be hidden from God. God is omniscient, meaning that he knows everything, no matter how hard we try to conceal it.

There is some irony in the subject of Mr. Hooper's sermon. For example, in wearing a black veil over his face, we have to wonder if he is trying to conceal some secret sins of his own from the community in which he preaches. Has he failed to realize that God is omniscient and knows every detail of every sin he has committed?

What is interesting here is that the congregation fail to notice this irony. They are so fixated on the black veil and its macabre connotations that they do not consider the possibility that he might be concealing his own secret sins. Instead, they plead for a wind to blow away the veil so that they might see his face. They are so focused on outside appearances that they do not heed Mr. Hooper's message.

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The topic of Mr. Hooper's first sermon after he begins to wear the black veil over his face is "secret sin."  It refers to Mr. Hooper's belief that we have all committed sins and that we all try to conceal this fact from our loved ones, ourselves, and even God (which is not possible because God knows all).  We can assume that there is a great deal of truth in this belief because his parishioners, hearing him talk, all feel as though he has discovered their own secret sins for himself, that he is speaking of each one as an individual.  And though there was no violence in his voice, no fire and brimstone and threats about the hereafter, his listeners "quaked."  Therefore, we know that this isn't just Mr. Hooper's hunch; his congregation's response to his sermon and the black veil shows their fear that he knows and/or could reveal that state of their tarnished souls to all the world. 

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