What is Mr. Hooper's sin in "The Minister's Black Veil"?
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," it is the ambiguity of the veil that creates the "Parable"; it is the doubt and ambiguity of the veil that most disturbs the congregation, and the fiancee of Mr. Hooper, as well. For, like those who encounter Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter" and blush or turn away, the people who look at the veil do not know if the minister is hiding something revealing in his eyes, or if he is shielding his eyes in order to scrutinize them. After Hooper's sermon,
some went homeward alone, wrapped in silent meditation; some talked loudly, nand profaned the Sabbath day with ostentatious laughter....None, as on former occasions, aspired to the honor of walking by their pastor's side. Old Squire Saunders....neglected to invite Mr.Hooper to his table, where the good clergyman had been wont to bless the food, almost every Sunday since his settlement.
Indeed, the people of Mr. Hooper's congregation wonder if Mr. Hooper, like Jonathan Edwards in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" tries to strike fear in their hearts by suggesting that he is aware of their sins. Obviously, their consciences bother them.
That Mr. Hooper wears the veil to symbolize his mourning for the secret sins of many of the Puritans who fear the severe punishments for transgressions and live as hypocrites becomes apparent in the denouement of Hawthorne's story. When the dying Mr. Hooper refuses to remove his veil, he turns to the spectators around him,
'Why do you tremble at me alone?....Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil?...the symbol beneath which I have lived and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!
As in a parable, Mr. Hooper wishes to teach a moral lesson to his congregation by wearing a veil that only each man and woman can interpret according to their own consciences.
The veil worn by Mr. Hooper, the minister in "The Minister's Black Veil" is a symbol for the sins that mankind hides within. It is not always representative of Hooper's own sin but those sins many others have committed. The reason that it is difficult for the congregation and even his fiancee to look upon him is that they only see the veil. They no longer see his kindness or good heart. He opens his most significant sermon by discussing "secret sins" which makes the congregation speculate as to what his sin might be. However, the impact of his sermon made with the presence of the veil gives it a powerful meaning.
One could also theorize that the sin that Mr. Hooper admonished himself over was the temptation or dalliance with a female. This type of behavior would prevent him from being able to disclose his sin to his fiancee and to hide his shame from the church and clergy.
Another theory is that Mr. Hooper had committed no greater sin other than mankind's normal daily sins, but that he was more aware of the need to be defined by his heart and words than by his appearance.
The last theory that I have heard was that Mr. Hooper suffered the sin of vanity and hid his handsome face away.