The Minister's Black Veil Analysis

  • Reverend Hooper's black veil is a symbol of isolation. When he wears it in public for the first time, he feels an immediate barrier go up between him and his parishioners. If the Reverend is to be believed, that barrier always existed, and the veil will only be lifted in Heaven. This suggests that isolation is humanity's natural state of being.
  • In "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne depicts the toxic effects that rumor mills can have on communities. Reverend Hooper lives in Milford, a small Puritan town in New England, where even the suggestion of sin can cause someone to be ostracized. Hawthorne explored this phenomenon in greater depth in his classic novel The Scarlet Letter.
  • Hawthorne cultivates an air of mystery around Reverend Hooper's black veil. By refusing to give readers access to Hooper's reasons for wearing the veil, he allows readers to speculate about Hooper's motivations. This mystery fuels the plot, which revolves around the desire to understand the significance of the black veil.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Style and Technique

Like many American Renaissance writings, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works are generally symbolic. The Scarlet Letter (1850) is one of the major symbolic novels of nineteenth century American literature, and Hawthorne often developed his short stories around a symbol. This is clearly the case in “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

When the Reverend Mr. Hooper first wears the veil, his parishioners think that it represents some secret sin or crime that the Reverend Mr. Hooper has committed. This impression in encouraged by Hawthorne’s footnote to the story concerning an actual person, the Reverend Mr. Joseph Moody of York, Maine, who wore a black veil because he accidentally killed a dear friend. Hawthorne explains that the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s veil has a different meaning, but the impression still remains that he is wearing it because of some secret sin or crime that he does not care to confess. Again, the sense of this is increased by the speculation that the young lady’s corpse shuddered when the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s veil fell forward over her as he bent over her coffin and also by the suggestion that the two mourners saw the minister’s and the maiden’s spirits walking hand in hand toward the graveyard.

It becomes clear in the interview with Elizabeth that while the veil may represent some secret sin or crime, for the Reverend Mr. Hooper its importance lies in its symbolic value, or the value that it has as a moral lesson to all. Throughout his life as well, the veil functions as precisely such a symbol, for it strikes terror in the hearts of sinners, and they hang on to life at the end until the Reverend Mr. Hooper can be by their side, for he knows they harbor sins and sorrows. At the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s death, the full symbolic significance of the veil is revealed as he says that he sees a veil on the face of all gathered around him. In this manner, Hawthorne’s symbolic style and technique are at the center of the development of the tale; yet the alternative significance of the veil as the representative of a specific crime or sin of the Reverend Mr. Hooper is also part of Hawthorne’s narrative technique.

Although the black veil is clearly a symbolic device, there is a strong suggestion in the story that it also hides a secret sin or crime committed by the Reverend Mr. Hooper. In addition, other details of the story seem to link him to the death of the young maiden. He conducts her funeral on the very day he first wears the veil, and there is the speculation that the maiden’s and the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s spirits are seen walking hand in hand. The effect of all this is to create in the reader the sense that he is being given clues to a puzzle that he can solve; that is, if he reads the story carefully, he may be able to discover exactly the nature of the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s sin or crime. As a result, the reader is drawn into the story and is given reason to read the story again and again. There is no answer to the puzzle, but the technique is effective and one that Hawthorne used in other stories, such as “Young Goodman Brown” and “Ethan Brand.”

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

When ‘‘The Minister's Black Veil’’ was first published in the periodical the Token in 1836, America was still a relatively new...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
In "The Minister's Black Veil: A Parable,'' the Reverend Mr. Hooper shocks his congregation in Milford,...

(The entire section is 977 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1850s: Puritanism is still a strong influence in New England life.

1999: With the influence of the Moral Majority...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

The Reverend Mr. Hooper's preoccupation with secret sin suggests that truly embracing Calvinist theology as Puritans did would lead to a...

(The entire section is 239 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

A sound recording of ‘‘The Minister's Black Veil: A Parable'' has been created by Robert H. Fossum as part of the Nineteenth-Century...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's ‘‘Young Goodman Brown’’ (1835), the title character witnesses what appears to be a witches' sabbath, at...

(The entire section is 270 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Canaday, Nicholas, Jr. ‘‘Hawthorne's Minister and the Veiling Deceptions of Self,'' Studies in Short Fiction,...

(The entire section is 387 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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