What is Mr. Hooper's sin in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
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