close-up portrait of a figure dressed in black wearing a black veil

The Minister's Black Veil

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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How does Mr. Hooper react to the parishioners' initial response to his veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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The members of the congregation of Mr. Hooper are filled with astonishment when they see their minister with a black veil covering the lower part of his face as he steps out his door. But, Mr. Hooper continues on his way deliberately, bending somewhat to look at the ground, yet "nodding kindly" to the members of the congregation who remain on the steps of the meeting-house.

After Mr. Hooper dons the black veil and steps out his door, the sexton who watches because the minister's presence is the signal to ring the church bell, cries out in amazement, "But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?" The others are so shocked to see that he has covered all but his eyes with a black veil that when he passes them and nods with gentleness toward them, few return his greeting.

This reaction toward the Reverend Mr. Hooper intensifies the longer that he wears the veil because people wonder if he is trying to hide something or if he sees in their faces some secret sin and, lest he reveal to others this sin, he shields his face. At any rate, they are threatened by the wearing of this veil, and sense a growing discomfiture around him. For this reason, Mr. Hooper is not invited to share Sunday dinners or attend weddings any more.

Therefore, rather than causing his congregation to become open about their human sins, the veil serves only to isolate Mr. Hooper himself. In fact, on his deathbed when he is asked by an attending minister to remove his veil so that others may see his "triumphant aspect" as he goes to "his reward," Mr. Hooper adamantly refuses, 

When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend, the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin,—then deem me a monster for the symbol beneath which I have lived and die. I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a black veil!" 

And, so, Mr. Hooper is buried with the veil upon his corpse, having desired to teach a moral lesson by wearing this veil as a symbol of the veil of falseness that each man and woman wears to conceal secret sins.

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What is the people's initial reaction to Mr. Hooper's veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

Before he donned the black veil, the Reverend Mr. Hooper had been known as a pleasant and popular clergyman but not a particularly effective one. His previous preaching was mild and inoffensive but did not make a major impression on his parishioners. In other words, although he was well-liked, he really had not been accomplishing his major task of saving souls.

When he dons the black veil, even though the rest of his appearance is unchanged, he makes a quite different, almost uncanny impression on his parishioners. The parishioners are "wonder-struck" at his transformation and the sexton wonders if it is really Hopper under the veil. The members of his congregation react with fear, awe, and puzzlement to the veil. Even more significantly, they find his sermon more powerful than any he has given before. 

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What is the people's initial reaction to Mr. Hooper's veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

When the Reverend Mr. Hooper first appears with the black veil upon his face, the congregation is "wonder-struck."

Some wonder if he is not really Mr. Hooper, but another minister. Others express their dislike for the veil, saying that it gives them negative feelings. "I can't really feel as if good Mr. Hooper's face was behind that piece of crepe," says the sexton as the minister passes. An older woman mutters that the minister has transformed himself into "something awful, only by hiding his face." Goodman Gray exclaims, "Our parson has gone mad!"

Much like Hester Prynne  of The Scarlet Letter, a novel written by the same author, there is in the Reverend Mr. Hooper, "a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in others' hearts." The variety of these hidden sins are evinced by the various reactions of the members of the congregation throughout the story. Certainly, these Puritans, for which sin is a constant topic of conversation, become uncomfortable and uncertain by the appearance of the veil on Mr. Hooper. For, they begin to wonder what guilt he may be hiding, or, perhaps what he has seen or what he does see in them presently that he wishes not to reveal.

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