In "The Minister's Black Veil," what were some of the various explanations by members of the congregation for the black veil?
The first explanation for the veil offered by a parishioner is from Goodman Gray, who says, "'Our parson has gone mad!" as he follows Mr. Hooper on the first morning the minister dons it. The narrator asks, as Mr. Hooper enters the church and begins to speak, "Did he seek to hide [his face] from the dread Being whom he was addressing?" It seems, then, that people even started to wonder if their parson was attempting to hide his face from God for some reason.
After the service, people gather around, clearly talking about Mr. Hooper's awful and strange veil: some people think "that there was no mystery at all, but only that Mr. Hooper's eyes were so weakened by the midnight lamp as to require "a shade." Still, another man, the village physician, believes that "'Something must surely be amiss with Mr. Hooper's intellects." He believes that Mr. Hooper is now suffering from some kind of delusion or declension of his mind.
The delegation sent by the church to find out the rationale behind the veil feels some vague awareness that it is "the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them." When Elizabeth, Mr. Hooper's fiancee, comes to inquire after the failure of the delegation, she asks him,
What grievous affliction hath befallen you [...] that you should thus darken your eyes forever?
She believes the veil can be attributed, perhaps, to an illness or some other cause of suffering. She presses him further, saying,
Beloved and respected as you are, there may be whispers that you hide your face under the consciousness of secret sin.
Apparently, these rumors have already been spreading in the village, and it embarrasses her a little to repeat them. During their conversation, when she's tried to get him to give her a direct answer about the veil's meaning, she even begins to think that his odd behavior is "a symptom of mental disease." Eventually, Elizabeth does seem to figure out what the veil means, but she never addresses it verbally; she only asks Mr. Hooper to show her his face one more time, but he will not.
From then on, some people considered it to be
merely an eccentric whim, such as often mingles with the sober actions of men otherwise rational, and tinges them all with its own semblance of insanity.
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There are certainly a number of different possible explanations given by the awestruck and curious congregation to the reason behind Mr. Hooper's new fashion accessory. Goodman Gray, for example, says that Mr. Hooper has gone mad - the only possible explanation from his point of view for such a behaviour. Some think that he has worn his eyes out by reading at night that he needs to shade them. The physician of the village thinks that "something must surely be amiss with Mr. Hooper's intellects," and his fiancée intimates that the congregation suspect some kind of secret sin. This last idea is the one that comes to be generally accepted, and is indeed referred to by Reverend Mr. Clark at the end of Mr. Hooper's life.
Various possibilities are discussed but it seems therefore as if the one that becomes commonly accepted is that Mr. Hooper has donned this black veil as a symbol of some secret sin.