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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Discussion Topic

Characterization and conduct of Mr. Hooper in "The Minister's Black Veil."


Mr. Hooper is characterized as a gentle and loving minister whose conduct changes drastically when he starts wearing a black veil. The veil creates a sense of mystery and isolation around him, causing fear and curiosity among his congregation. Despite his unchanged kindness and dedication, the veil symbolizes hidden sin and guilt, altering how others perceive and interact with him.

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How would you characterize Mr. Hooper in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

Reverend Hooper is characterized directly and indirectly in the story, so it is helpful to understand a definition for each type of characterization.  In direct characterization, a narrator makes a direct comment about a character. In the case of Reverend Hooper, “…a gentlemanly person, of about thirty…” or “Mr. Hooper had the reputation of a good preacher…” 

What is ironic in this story is that the direct characterization of Mr. Hooper as gentlemanly, kind, and a good preacher is directly contradicted by the indirect characterization.  Indirect characterization is when an author reveals a character’s traits through their words, thoughts or actions; through descriptions of the character’s appearance; through what other characters say about him or her; or through the way they react to him or her.  A good example of the indirect characterization of Mr. Hooper is when one of his parishioners says, “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face.”  Of course, this is not true, but this is what the parishioners think.  “But that piece of crape, to their imagination, seemed to hang down  before his heart.”  As we read the story, we also begin to wonder what Mr. Hooper could be hiding, although there is no indication, really, that he is hiding anything.

When writing your paragraph, consider Mr. Hooper’s reasons for wearing the black veil.  At the end of the story, he says, “I look around me, and lo! on every visage a black veil.”  Hooper’s intention was to use the black veil as a symbol, or  a lesson, to others that everyone, even the minister, has sins to hide.  The reaction of the people to their minister when he begins wearing the veil shows us that people are quick to judge, to assume someone has done something wrong when they have not. Ask yourself what kind of person Reverend Hooper must have been to be willing to wear this symbol and destroy his reputation.

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How does Mr. Hooper's conduct in "The Minister's Black Veil" contrast with his normal behavior?

I am not entirely sure that this question isn't a trick question that looks to force the answer to be a rebuttal. When the story starts, there is something different about Father Hooper. He is wearing a black veil that covers his face. That is the only difference in Hooper. Readers are told several times that his behavior was identical to what it normally was. Notice how the third paragraph describes Mr. Hooper's walk toward the church.

. . . and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards the meeting-house.

Readers are told that Hooper was pacing "his" way. A person's gait is unique like a fingerprint. That's why "gait recognition" is gaining ground as legal identification.

Readers are also told that Mr. Hooper's sermon was delivered in the same way that his other sermons were delivered. He's not a fire and brimstone speaker, nor is he highly energetic from the pulpit.

The sermon which he now delivered was marked by the same characteristics of style and manner as the general series of his pulpit oratory.

The audience may have received his message differently, but it wasn't because Mr. Hooper was behaving any differently. It had everything to do with the fact that Mr. Hooper decided to wear one extra piece of clothing that happened to cover his face.

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