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 are the characters' thoughts and statements about the black veil? What is left unsaid by them and the author? Does the symbol's obscurity contribute to its meaning?

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When Mr Hooper begins to wear the black veil and refuses to take it off, it excites great speculation amongst his parishioners, who eagerly rush to jump to conclusions as to why he might have started to wear the black veil and what it might signify. What is interesting, however, is the way in which they talk about the black veil and how it transforms Mr Hooper's appearance so completely. Note, for example, the following exchange that the parishioners have after the first service when Mr Hooper appears with his black veil covering his face:

"How strange," said a lady, "that a simple black veil, such as any woman might wear on her bonnet, should become such a terrible thing on Mr. Hooper's face!"

The black veil is transformed from something that could be a simple object, such as could be worn by "any woman," into a "terrible thing," which of course hints at its symbolic meaning as it represents the sin and the capacity for evil within all of us. Another parishioner comments that, although the veil only covers the face of Mr Hooper, it "throws its influence over his whole person." This again supports the way in which the veil, although it is only small, is such a dominant symbol in the story. What is interesting is the way in which the parishioners respond to the veil in the long term. Some are repelled by it and do their best to avoid Mr Hooper, whereas others reflect and meditate upon what they see on Mr Hooper's face, and the veil endears him to them. The multiplicity of meanings that are attached to the veil serve to heighten the mystery that surrounds it and also the meaning that it possesses. If, after all, the veil does symbolise the sin that all of us possess, it is no wonder that so many reject it or choose to ignore it. It is a constant reminder of a deeply unpleasant truth that many do their best to ignore all of their lives.

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