The Minister's Black Veil Characters
The main characters in “The Minister’s Black Veil” are Reverend Mr. Hooper, Elizabeth, and Reverend Clark.
- Reverend Mr. Hooper is the reverend of the Puritan town of Milford. He frightens his parishioners by donning a black veil one day and refusing to remove it.
- Elizabeth is Mr. Hooper's fiancée. She begs him to remove the black veil and leaves him when he refuses.
- Reverend Mr. Clark is a minister from a nearby town who visits Mr. Hooper at his deathbed.
Last Updated on June 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 986
Reverend Mr. Hooper
Reverend Mr. Hooper is the parson of Milford and the protagonist of “The Minister’s Black Veil,” whose plot revolves around his decision to wear a black veil over his face, baffling his congregants. At the beginning of the story, Mr. Hooper is a young man, described as “a gentlemanly person of about thirty,” and by the end of the story, he is an old man approaching death. Throughout, Mr. Hooper is solemn, dignified, and dedicated. His comportment is slow and “meditative,” his temperament is one of “gentle gloom,” and his style of preaching depends not on thunderous rhetoric but on “mild, persuasive influences.”
The animating mystery of the story concerns the meaning of Mr. Hooper’s black veil, and only in some respects is this mystery made clear. At the end of the story, a dying Mr. Hooper explains that the veil is not the symbol of some personal, sinful secret but rather a symbol of the human tendency towards secretiveness. On his deathbed, he accuses each of his fellow villagers of “treasuring up the secret of his sin.” Such is Mr. Hooper’s dedication to this moral project that when he is buried, his corpse still bears the black veil.
Although the symbolism of the veil is explained, what remains mysterious is why Mr. Hooper initially feels compelled to don the black veil and embody the ethical cause it symbolizes. From a narrative perspective, this mystery is a result of Hawthorne’s structural choices: the story begins immediately after Mr. Hooper first dons the veil, so the immediate cause is unaccounted for. But it may be fair to say that even Mr. Hooper does not entirely understand his own decision—only that it represents a kind of spiritual summons or mandate. As he tells Elizabeth of the veil,
I am bound to wear it forever, both in light and in darkness, in solitude and before the gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar friends. . . This dismal shade must separate me from the world.
Indeed, Mr. Hooper’s comments regarding his motivations only underscore his sense of determination, not his causes. The closest he gets to such an explanation is an ambiguous statement that the veil might be worn either for “sorrow” or for the kind of “secret sin” of which anyone might be guilty. To the end of the story, this “ambiguity of sin or sorrow” is sustained.
Although his fellow villagers fear and misunderstand him, Mr. Hooper’s work as a minister is respected—increasingly so, in fact. The first sermon he delivers from behind the veil is the most stirring he has ever given, eliciting great pathos and awe in his congregation. Later in the story, it is said that Mr. Hooper’s veil makes him “a man of awful power over souls that were in agony for sin,” and he achieves a degree of renown for his powerful preaching. Even as he is shunned by his neighbors, he is sought after by sinners who feel that the veiled Mr. Hooper understands the dark conditions of their souls.
Elizabeth is Mr. Hooper’s beloved and a resident of Milford. She is a loyal, imperturbable woman who values straightforwardness. The precise nature of the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Hooper is not fully clarified. At the beginning of the story, Mr. Hooper is described as “still a bachelor,” but when Elizabeth visits him to inquire about the veil, she is described as “his plighted wife.” To account for this, some critics and readers have understood her to be his fiancée during the early stages of the story.
Elizabeth is distinguished from the other villagers of Milford by her candor and fearlessness. Indeed, she is the “one person in the village unappalled by the awe” imposed by the black veil, and so it is she who asks Mr. Hooper about the mystery. Her emphasis on clarity of expression comes to the fore when she tells the riddling Mr. Hooper that his “words are a mystery too. . . . Take away the veil from them at least.” Ultimately, Elizabeth gives Mr. Hooper an ultimatum: if he does not remove the veil, she will leave him. He chooses the veil, and she keeps her word.
Elizabeth proves her loyalty at the end of the story when she appears at Mr. Hooper’s deathbed. It is revealed that her “calm affection had endured thus long in secrecy, in solitude, amid the chill of age, and would not perish even in this dying hour.” Thus it is apparent that her abandonment of Mr. Hooper has been only partial and that her love for him has remained unbroken.
Reverend Mr. Clark
Reverend Mr. Clark is the minister of the town of Westbury. He comes to Milford at the end of the story to oversee Reverend Mr. Hooper’s passing. Mr. Clark is a foil to Mr. Hooper in that he represents a conventional minister, one whose sensibility Mr. Hooper diverges from in his grim wearing of the black veil. At Mr. Hooper’s deathbed, Mr. Clark encourages the dying minister to remove the black veil, seeing it as “a shadow on his memory that may seem to blacken a life so pure.” It is Mr. Clark’s intention to lift the veil that provokes Mr. Hooper’s final monologue, in which he clarifies the meaning of the controversial cloth.
The villagers of Milford represent, as a whole, the societal norms which Mr. Hooper disrupts in his decision to wear the veil. Although certain villagers are at times distinguished by name or title—such as the sexton, the physician, or Goodman Gray—the villagers are more often rendered as a social unit. Although the villagers’ reactions to Mr. Hooper vary in their particulars, the village generally shuns Mr. Hooper, never again treating him as a fully integrated member of their community.
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