With what emotions does Elizabeth regard the veil at first and later on? What do her reactions suggest about the veil as a symbol?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

But there was one person in the village, unappalled by the awe with which the black veil had impressed all beside herself....she, with the calm energy of her character, determined to chase away the strange cloud that appeared to be settling round Mr. Hooper, every moment more darkly than before.

Undisturbed by the mystery of the black veil, Elizabeth, Mr. Hooper's fiancee, feels that it should be "her privilege" to know what this veil conceals.  When she sits down with her fiance, she says, "There is nothing terrible in this piece of crape, except that it hides a face which I am always glad to look upon."  She asks him to put the veil aside and then tell her why he has put it on.  But, Mr. Hooper does not do so.  Instead, he replies that he will take it aside when "all of us shall cast aside our veils."

With his response Elizabeth becomes alarmed:  "What grievous affliction hath befallen you...that you should thus darken your eyes forever?"  She wonders what Mr. Hooper has done that he feels the need to cover his face.  Then, she worries that others may believe that he hides his face "under the consciousness of secret sin" and begs Mr. Hooper to remove the veil:  "For the sake of your holy office, do away this scandal!"

Mr. Hooper resists all her entreaties.  Elizabeth cries, and "a new feeling took the place of sorrow" as the "terrors fell around her."  Hooper asks her mournfully, "And do you feel it then at last?"  To this question she begs him to lift the veil one time and look her in the face.  He refuses; Elizabeth says, "Then, farewell!"  With one last "long, shuddering gaze" Elizabeth departs.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of "The Minister's Black Veil" had a preoccupation with his family history and its Puritan heritage.  He was greatly disturbed by a theology that did not allow for any redemption from sin, feeling that this prohibition was the cause for much torment and guilt and hypocrisy.  In this narrative of Hawthorne's, the veil then becomes a symbol of the Puritan guilt for secret sin.  When Mr. Hooper first dons this veil, people wonder why he wears it, what he may have done.  Then, they begin to feel uncomfortable as they worry that he may know of their own secret sins.  Elizabeth, too, perceives the veil as mysterious after Mr. Hooper refuses to remove it.  She, too, wonders what he may have done; then, she, too, shudders as she "feels it at last"--her own guilt.  This guilt, this secret sin, isolates them forever. 

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The Minister's Black Veil

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