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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In "The Minister's Black Veil," what was the congregation's attitude toward Hooper before the veil's appearance?

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People were comfortable with Hooper before the veil appeared, and now they are not.

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The sexton refers to him as "'good Mr. Hooper,'" and another old woman says that he has "'changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face'"; both of these descriptions seem to imply that he was liked and respected prior to donning the black veil. People must not have...

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found him "awful" before at all. He had a reputation for being a "good preacher" though he was not particularly "energetic." He is described several times as being "mild" in manner and address, rather than being a more fire-and-brimstone kind of minister. Now, the narrator says,

None, as on former occasions, aspired to the honor of walking by their pastor's side. Old Squire Saunders, doubtless by an accidental lapse of memory, neglected to invite Mr. Hooper to his table, where the good clergyman had been wont to bless the food, almost every Sunday since his settlement.

Therefore, we can ascertain that, before the veil, people wanted to be close to their minister. They wanted to walk with him and to have him over to dinner. They must have felt that he was quite holy and undeniably good. Now, however, they fear his black veil so much that they stop trying to walk with him and forget to ask him to dinner. He was obviously respected and thought of well by his parishioners.

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You are right in pointing towards the massive transformation that occurs in Mr. Hooper after he dons his black veil, both in terms of his appearance and what others make of him. However, to consider how he was viewed before he decides to go through this change, you need to look towards the beginning of the story, where the narrator clearly outlines his standing in the community where he ministers:

Mr. Hooper had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: He strove to win his people heavenward, by mild persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither, by the thunders of the Word.

Thus we can see that although Mr. Hooper had a good reputation, he was not famed for the power and vivacity of his preaching, but rather known for his mildness and gentleness. Of course, the black veil changes radically his position in the community and the effectiveness of his job as a minister, as people come to identify their own fallen nature in his black veil.

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Describe Hooper in "The Minister's Black Veil." What does the congregation's attitude towards him seem to be like?

Reverend Hooper is a complicated figure in the story because we are never quite sure why he doesn't either take off his veil or explain the veil to his congregation.

Hawthorne tells us that Hooper is "a good preacher" who tries to lead his congregation "by mild persuasive influences" rather than through fear and threats of damnation.  Hawthorne is implicitly comparing Hooper to real-life Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards who wrote the famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which was the opposite of Hooper's mild persuasion.  When Hooper puts the veil on, however, he essentially becomes a stranger to his congregation because they no longer "recognize" the man behind the veil.

Because Hooper doesn't explain why he is wearing the veil--other than using the theme of "secret sins" in his first sermon with the veil on--the townspeople begin to look upon him with fear.  More important, even Hooper begins to look upon himself with the same fear.  When his fiance, Elizabeth, for example, tries to get him to take the veil off even for a minute, he refuses, but he also tells her she doesn't know afraid he is "to be alone behind my black veil."

Even though Reverend Hooper conducts himself as he always did, he never regains the love and trust of his congregation.  Elizabeth leaves him and doesn't reappear until Hooper is on his deathbed.  The symbolic meaning of the veil--even though his congregation does not know what that meaning is--seems to become more important to Hooper than human relationships, more important, even, than a life with Elizabeth.

One has to question whether Hooper has essentially allowed himself to become a martyr to a symbol, willing to destroy his relationship with the rest of mankind (not to mention Elizabeth's love) in order to send a message that no one quite understands.

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