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 the congregation initially respond to Mr. Hooper's black veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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At first, the congregation is "wonder-struck" as the Reverend Mr. Hooper greets them on the way to the pulpit inside the church.

In the exposition of "The Minister's Black Veil," the sexton awaits the appearance of the Reverend Hooper so that he can toll the church bell. Soon, he sees the minister appear. It is with "astonishment" that he asks, "But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?" Then, as the minister passes others in the congregation, they are amazed at the sight of his face, which is covered by a dark veil.

A rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon had preceded Mr. Hooper into the meetinghouse....He seemed not fully to partake of the prevailing wonder....That mysterious emblem was never once withdrawn. It shook with his measured threw its obscurity between him and the holy page....Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he was addressing?

Mr. Hooper's veil generates such wonder and mystery that women of delicate natures are forced to leave the meetinghouse lest they faint. Perhaps, too, the "pale-faced" congregation is also a "fearful sight to the minister" as his veil is to them. 

What frightens the congregation is, first of all, the appearance of the minister and their wonder at why Mr. Hooper wears this dark veil over his face. The sexton says that he is unable to believe that Mr. Hooper's face is really behind the black piece of crape. After the parson speaks from the pulpit about "secret sin" and "those sad mysteries" which everyone hides from even their family and friends, the congregation is unnerved and the veil begins to inspire a feeling of dread. Later, they ask if the parson has "gone mad" and why he has transformed himself into "something awful." For, people wonder if Mr. Hooper has done something himself which he wishes to hide, or if he has knowledge of their failings and wishes to hide this awareness.

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The feeling that Nathaniel Hawthorne explains that the congregation first felt is "amazement". He explains that this young, virtuous and religious bachelor who leads his flock with sternness comes out looking as well-dressed and ready to preach as ever. However, the veil in front of his face seems almost as if it's part of his entire wardrobe, which is the main reason why the feelings of fear and weariness start to set in.

The cause of so much amazement may appear sufficiently slight. Mr. Hooper.. was dressed with due clerical neatness... There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil.

The reason behind the amazement, which is later on followed by disdain, is that nobody knows the reason why the minister performs this eccentric action. The children start to fear the minister; the ladies say that they do not like the fact that this man finds it necessary to cover his face; the men are frustrated because the veil causes unnecessary instability in the congregation. Yet, the main reason behind the minister's actions are to show the world their own veil of sin, and to demonstrate that, in the end, we all hide behind a veil of lies.

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In "The Minister's Black Veil," how does the congregation respond at first to Mr. Hooper's black veil and why?

The congegration is at first greatly taken aback by the sight of Mr Hooper's black veil. In fact they are so 'wonderstruck' that they are unable to respond to his 'kindly' greetings as he makes his way to the church for his first sermon there. The people are perplexed by the veil not just because it is such an unusual thing for a minister to wear, but also because in every other respect Mr Hooper's appearance is entirely ordinary. This makes the veil stand out all the more and renders it quite grotesque. It is the only 'remarkable' thing about the otherwise quiet and unassuming Mr Hooper. 

The people's initial astonishment rapidly deepens to a real disquiet as Mr Hooper proceeds to conduct his sermon with the veil still hanging over his face.

Such was the effect of this simple piece of crape, that more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the meeting-house.

The veil, then, begins to actually upset and frighten the people; it becomes the object of fearful awe and speculation. Mr Hooper never removes it for the rest of his life (or, indeed, even in death) which makes many people draw away from him, including his fiancee Elizabeth.

The people imagine that Mr Hooper wears the veil to hide some dreadful personal secret, but he reveals it to be a general symbol of human sin - something which other people always try to hide. Mr Hooper merely chooses to make his sin visible on his own face. Thus the wearing of the veil is revealed to be quite simple in its meaning, although potent in its effect. Symbolism, as so often in Hawthorne's works, plays a significant role in this story. 

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In what ways does the veil affect Mr. Hooper's relationship with his congregation, in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

Nathaniel Hawthorne was known for his stories based in New England and dealing with Puritan religion. His works of literature have become synonymous with sin and righteousness, and the judgments of townspeople.

The Minister's Black Veil is no different. Parson Hooper is the reverend in the town of Milford. He shows up at Mass one morning wearing a black veil that covers his eyes. Immediately the townspeople start gossiping about why he is wearing the veil. Some of the people say that he has gone mad, while others say he is covering a shameful sin. Soon the children of the congregation become afraid of him and the adults continue to gossip about him. Though the townspeople are curious about this, no one has the nerve to ask him why he is wearing the veil. The only person who asks him is his fiancee, Elizabeth. He won't even tell her why he wears the veil. The relationship with his congregation changes dramatically. They now start seeing their own sins that they have been hiding. Most of the people start to have less and less to do with him. Elizabeth, even though she loves him, ends up leaving him, because he won't tell her why he wears the veil and won't take it off for her.

Now that he is alone, he actually begins to become a better clergyman. He begins to gain many converts who feel like they are living beneath a black veil, as well.

"All through life the black veil had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from the cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and kept him in the saddest of all prisons, his own heart; and still it lay upon his face, as if to deepen the gloom of his dark-some chamber, and shade him from the sunshine of eternity".

This quote sums up how he was now living his life. Elizabeth never married and was with him when he was dying. He tells everyone around him that they all wear black veils. He is trying to show everyone that there is always something hidden within us.

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Why does Hooper's veil make the congregation uneasy in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

Mr. Hooper's sudden adoption of a black veil makes his congregation uneasy because nobody really knew why he did it, hence, the curiosity that the imagination creates leads to all sorts of ideas: Whether he had gone mad or not, whether he was hiding a sin, whether he was showing the congregation the "secret sins" that they call carry around, or whether he was turning into something else.

Having the veil was a sacrifice that came from the minister's own initiative to proof a point: But which point? That is what made everyone uneasy. The fact of not being able to tell nor bring closure to the question is twice as desperate than knowing for sure what he wanted to say. Some villagers thought that the minister had literally "turned into something awful" under the veil. Still, this mystery was what made him so powerful and so enthralling to the congregation. Therefore, as uneasy as it was at first, it was still the fact that the veil made the minister a man above all others, until his death.

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