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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Why is "The Minister's Black Veil" considered a parable?

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A parable is a kind of story, typically a fictional one, that contains a moral or religious principle.  This story seems to qualify doubly because it has both.  It demonstrates a theme common to Hawthorne's writings: we are all sinners; this is certainly a Christian, religious principle.  However, the story...

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also demonstrates a moral: we all attempt to hide our sinful natures from one another—and we are wrong, very wrong and misguided, to do so.  In fact, we add hypocrisy to sin when we encourage others to believe that we do not have sinful natures.  Moreover, when we fail to publicly acknowledge our sinful natures, we hang a figurative veil between ourselves and everyone else, separating and alienating ourselves unnecessarily when we could be commiserating and supporting one another instead.  This is what Father Hooper's literal veil seems to represent.  With this figurative veil in place over each of our souls, we prevent ourselves from truly being known or truly knowing anyone else.  

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The Minister's Back Veil is a parable or allegory because is contains a moral message. When Hooper first puts on the black veil, everyone expects it just to be a prop for his sermon. The subject [of his sermon] had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest. The effect the sermon had on the parishioners was extraordinary.

A subtle power was breathed into his words. Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil.

However, the people expect him to take off the veil at some point that day. The day ends and Hooper continues to wear the veil. His fiance even says she will not marry him if he continues to wear the veil. Hooper replies, "There is an hour to come,'' said he, "when all of us shall cast aside our veils. Take it not amiss, beloved friend, if I wear this piece of crape till then.'' In other words, he intends to wear the veil until he dies. So she breaks their engagement but he still wears the veil. On his deathbed, he still refuses to take off the veil but says instead, "I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!" In other words, the moral message that Hooper was trying to make is that everyone has some kind of secret sin that they try to hide. That moral message, coupled with a symbol ( the black veil) makes this story a parable.

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