Introduction to The Minister's Black Veil

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” was first published in 1836 and again the following year in the collection Twice-Told Tales. The story is one of Hawthorne’s early works, but in theme, mood, and subject matter, it reflects some of his lifelong preoccupations. The story centers around Reverend Mr. Hooper, the Puritan minister of a town in New England. He decides to don a black veil, covering his face down to his mouth. This change triggers alarm and suspicion among Reverend Mr. Hooper’s parishioners, who begin to doubt his character and motives. They suspect that he is hiding a terrible sin or secret, and they distance themselves from him, despite his consistently pious conduct. On Reverend Mr. Hooper’s deathbed, he reveals that he sees a black veil on the faces of everyone he sees; the difference is that he wears his veil in open view.

With its grim, gothic tone, “The Minister’s Black Veil” presages Hawthorne’s later masterpieces, such as The Scarlet Letter (1850). The story also foregrounds Hawthorne’s sustained fascination with the place of sin in society and the dynamics of Puritanism, whose hypocrisies Hawthorne sought to reveal in his work.

A Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) was an American writer born in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne decided to become a writer after graduating from college, but he had to take a number of other jobs during his lifetime to make ends meet. He feared his time in the labor force might compromise his writing ability, but in fact, toil seems to have stimulated his authorship. His work environment during a stint as measurer in the Boston Customhouse is described in the preface to his most famous book, The Scarlet Letter, and his time spent working on an experimental farm resulted in the novel The Blithedale Romance. Despite years laboring at jobs other than those that involved his pen, Hawthorne managed to marry, raise three children, and, most important to the literary world, create a treasury of novels, histories, and story collections before he died at age sixty. Many of his short stories—particularly “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Minister's Black Veil,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter”—continue to be read and studied today.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Minister's Black Veil

The Minister's Black Veil

While the minister’s black veil does not seem so very out of place at the funeral over which Mr. Hooper presides earlier in the day, it seems incredibly austere and even grotesque at the wedding of...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:42 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

In "The Minister's Black Veil," the popular, beloved Reverend Hooper begins wearing a black veil, which covers the majority of his face and symbolically represents the façade that righteous people...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 3:42 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

Despite the fact that Mr. Hooper is friendly and that his manner is unchanged, no one among his parishioners can bring themselves to ask him about the veil. A certain “feeling of dread” causes each...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:32 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

Hawthorne's story is a study in Puritan theology. In it, he portrays the Puritan preoccupation with sin as a struggle between good and evil in the soul. The heart, thus, is a place where "ghost and...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 1:20 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

Mr. Hooper evokes fear in the other characters due to his black veil. The veil conceals most of his face, with the exception of his mouth and chin. Unable to see his eyes, it is hard for the others...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:17 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

At the end of "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne describes the crowd gathered around Mr. Hooper's deathbed. There are the doctor, the deacons, leading members of the church community, a...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:47 am (UTC)

2 educator answers

The Minister's Black Veil

The minister's smile represents his knowledge of the secret "moral truth" of the people around him. As he says on his deathbed, every face, to him, is wearing its own veil; he means that everyone...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:57 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

Edgar Allan Poe wrote that the symbolism of the black veil was a matter to be determined by the reader, who would bring a particular perspective on matters such as sin, guilt, pride, and...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:17 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

When Mr. Hooper lays on his deathbed, those gathered around his bed urge him to remove the black veil. When Hooper refuses to do so, one of the ministers insults him and threatens him with eternal...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 12:02 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

When Parson Hooper dons a black veil made of crape that covers just about his entire face, he is an immediate social pariah. The veil inspires fear, with people thinking that the veil has...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:51 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

At first, it seems Elizabeth is the only person who accepts the veil. She is not frightened of its appearance as the other townspeople are and keeps her engagement to Hooper. However, Hooper's...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 11:46 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

While children run screaming from him in the streets and the good people shun him, those who are aware of their sin turn to the Reverend Hooper because they feel a sense of kinship with him. His...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 12:31 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

In "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne describes the gossip and speculation among the people of Milford for several paragraphs before raising the question of why no one in the town would ask Mr....

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 12:16 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

Although there is speculation that, perhaps, Mr. Hooper has committed some kind of sexual sin with a young lady, this is unconvincing to some readers, as Hooper seems to love his fiancée,...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 12:09 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

One day, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, Mr. Hooper, a minister in a small village, begins wearing a black veil in front of his eyes. He refuses to remove it despite the shock and horror of his...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 3:32 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

The moral lesson of "The Minister's Black Veil" is that we all are sinners. We all have a sin—have made a mistake—that has hurt others, and we all hide our shadow side. As the Reverend Hooper tells...

Latest answer posted October 1, 2020, 12:03 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

The minister of the story, Mr. Hooper, has committed some unspecified sin. We never get to find out what it is, not least because he never tells anyone about it, although there is some speculation...

Latest answer posted September 30, 2020, 11:10 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

The message of this short story is that each of us, as a human being, has a nature to commit sin, and if we were honest about that sinfulness with our peers, then we would have more meaningful...

Latest answer posted September 30, 2020, 11:17 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Minister's Black Veil

An embassy of parishioners visits Mr. Hooper because they wish to persuade him to remove the black veil he has taken to wearing over his face. The veil obscures all but his mouth. Looking at it...

Latest answer posted March 19, 2021, 9:46 pm (UTC)

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Summary