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

The Minister's Black Veil

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Start Free Trial

What role do secrets play in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Secrets and secrecy become a motif in this short story, as well as a catalyst for the major conflict and symbol development in the story. After donning a black veil without explanation, Mr. Hooper preaches a sermon on secret sin and its consequences. He continues to wear the veil without a word as to why. Rumors begin to spread, fear develops, and eventually the Reverend is all but shunned. Hawthorne's point in all of this is two-fold. 1 -- everyone has something they are hiding. We all keep secrets, yet we all judge others for theirs. Much like other writings by Hawthorne, there is an undercurrent of hypocrisy within the community as they judge Mr. Hooper's actions without all the information. 2 -- secrets destroy. When secrets fester, they divide and lead to fear and isolation. In Mr. Hooper's case, they lead to death. But on his deathbed, he reveals the reason why he has worn the veil. It isn't because of anything he has done that is shameful, but rather as an illustration of what all mankind is guilty of - secrecy. While other themes are present in the story, these most clearly relate to the development of secrets.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do secrets play a role in the story?

Secrets are the essence of this story. 

The title takes its name from the veil that Hooper begins to wear without any apparent prompt; the thoughts of his parishioners immediately turn to the idea that it must represent some sort of secret that Hooper wishes to atone for by public display, but not to reveal. The nature of this secret provokes their curiosity, but as it becomes apparent that Hooper will not reveal what the secret is, or if there is any secret at all, the mystery begins to pass and Hooper is instead regarded with fear.

Finally, as he dies, Hooper suggests that everyone is wearing a veil. The exact meaning of this is a bit ambiguous, but it might be interpreted to mean that everyone is hiding some secret that they will admit to no one. 

Without knowing what the secret is, or if there is one at all, the role that secrets play in the story is ultimately evidenced in our reaction to them; namely, curiosity, fear, bargaining (as attempted by several characters why try to get Hooper to explain or remove the veil) and distancing, as Hooper's veil begins to obstruct his ability to relate to others. Finally, Hooper himself has to point out that none of us are ever truly open with anyone, even God, and that our hidden secrets poison us against one another.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on