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," how does the veil affect Mr. Hooper's worldview?

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The author states specifically that the minister's black veil not only hides his face from the world but also gives him a darkened view of everything, including all the people he meets. The following sentence explains not only his subjective perceptions but his objective ones:

On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things.

In other words, the whole world looks dark to him for the rest of his life. This seems to be an unusually morbid choice, since his view of the world and the people in it is probably melancholy enough without the veil. Hooper seems to be suffering from an excessive amount of guilt, and he also seems to be projecting that guilt out upon all the people in his community, especially those of his parish. He naturally makes everyone, including his own fiancee Elizabeth, feel uneasy. No doubt they realize they are not being open and candid with everyone all the time, but this is an impossibility, and no one really expects it.

Reverend Hooper seems to think that everyone in the village, male and female, should adopt his fashion and begin wearing black veils. This would be a weird sort of village, and it would be nearly impossible to get any work done. It wouldn't make anybody more righteous, only more secretive.

Seeing other people through a black veil apparently is effective in making Reverend Hooper think that everyone else is actually wearing a black veil which he or she is not aware of. It is an optical illusion. Furthermore, the effect his appearance has on other people looks to him as their natural state. It makes them reveal their secret guilts and secret fears, even their secret fantasies and secret crimes in their facial expressions and body language, because they believe he can see right through them in spite of the fact that they have been wearing protective masks, or personas, all their adult lives.

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In "The Minister's Black Veil," what is the subject of Parson Hooper's sermon on the first Sunday he appears wearing the black veil?

Your question points to one of the enduring mysteries of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil" ("TMBV").  Reverend Hooper's congregation, so unnerved by his appearance in the veil, fail to place the symbol of the veil in the context of his sermon given moments after he appears in the veil.  The sight of their gentle leader masked by a black veil has turned their world upside down, and their communal response, horrific as it is, precludes even the exercise of common sense:

     'I don't like it,' muttered an old woman, as she hobbled into the meeting-house.  'He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face.'

     'Our parson has gone mad!' cried Goodman Gray, following him across the threshold.

A man whom everyone knew to be a gentle, loving preacher--one who "strove to to win his people heavenward, by mild persuasive influences"--has, by adding a veil to his face, become an object of suspicion and even horror.

Reverend Hooper's sermon, given just minutes after his congregation is seated (but still in fearful awe of the veil), takes as its subject 

. . . secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them.

Even though each listener seems to feel the effect of Hooper's sermon, perhaps aided by the power of the veil--that Hooper is able to detect each person's "iniquity of thought and deed"--no one appears to connect the sermon's subject (everyone has secret sins) with the symbol or emblem of secret sins, the veil itself.  Even the village's physician remarks on the veil's effect on him, "a sober-minded man like myself," but even he fails to discern the relationship between the veil and the sermon because his intellectual capabilities are no match for the fear inspired by the unknown.

Much has been made of Hooper's failure to discuss the meaning of the veil with his congregation, and there is no doubt that he loses a "teaching moment," but the fact is, he clearly links the symbol of secret sins with his discussion of secret sins.  But the superstitious fears of the congregation veil their own eyes and ears to Reverend Hooper's attempt to teach them that secret sins prevent them from truly knowing each other and understanding their equality in God's eyes.

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In the story "The Minister's Black Veil" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, what is the symbolism of the black veil that Parson Hooper wears?

In a society based on the holy pursuit of perfect and election by God, Mr. Hooper dons a veil that provokes a wide range of reactions from his parishioners. The reader never knows the specific reason why he wears this, but we come to understand that he is openly acknowledging some sort of flaw or sin in his life. This gesture puts all those around him on edge.

As he provokes strong reactions to veil, Mr. Hooper also becomes a more effective pastor. Through the "stain" of the veil, he sees sin in all the people around him, regardless of their pretense. This provokes in him a humbling sense of compassion and forgiveness. The first step of forgiveness is acknowledging wrongdoing. Through this, he sees a true brotherhood in those around him.

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