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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What do Father Hooper's final words reveal about his reasons for wearing the veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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In "The Minister's Black Veil," Father Hooper's final words disclose that his possible reason for wearing the black veil was to remind himself and others of his sinfulness. With his last breath, he says, "I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!" This is an indication that both he and the people surrounding his deathbed are all inveterate sinners. The difference, however, is that he at least is acknowledging his sins.

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It is never explicitly spelled out in the story why the Reverend Hooper constantly wears a black veil wherever he goes and whatever he does. One thing we do know, for sure, however, is that it completely freaks everybody out.

The black veil looks scary, and it alienates the minister from his flock. Even when he's lying on his deathbed, he stubbornly refuses to take it off. And so, even at the hour of his death, Mr. Hooper remains separated from his parishioners.

Rumors abound that the minister has taken to wearing the black veil because of some terrible sin he committed when the girl whose funeral he presides over was alive. But no one, other than Mr. Hooper himself, knows what the real reason is behind his strange decision.

However, some clues are provided by the minister's last words. As he lies on his deathbed, surrounded by members of his congregation, he utters his final breath:

I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!

One might say, then, that Mr. Hooper's wearing of the veil was a public acknowledgment of his sinfulness. Now we don't know whether he's referring to a specific sin or just a general condition of sinfulness, but it seems safe to say that the black veil is a symbol of sin.

And because of his heightened awareness of sin, Mr. Hooper is able to see black veils on the faces of those standing around his deathbed, even though they're not actually wearing them. In other words, he can see the sin in others, even if they can't see it in themselves.

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Why is Father Hooper wearing a veil in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

The truth is, the reader never truly finds out why Father Hooper is wearing the veil. It appears quite suddenly, and the members of his church are most definitely put off by its addition to his clothing: 

"I can't really feel as if good Mr. Hooper's face was behind that piece of crape," said the sexton.

"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.

Hawthorne sets up this same curiosity in the reader. Most characters refuse to ask him why he's wearing the veil; rumors abound about what is under the veil and why he is wearing it. Finally, his fiance does ask why he is wearing it:

"Elizabeth, I will," said he, "so far as my vow may suffer me. Know, then, this veil is a type and a symbol, and I am bound to wear it ever, both in light and darkness, in solitude and before the gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar friends. No mortal eye will see it withdrawn. This dismal shade must separate me from the world: even you, Elizabeth, can never come behind it!"

"What grievous affliction hath befallen you," she earnestly inquired, "that you should thus darken your eyes forever?"

"If it be a sign of mourning," replied Mr. Hooper, "I, perhaps, like most other mortals, have sorrows dark enough to be typified by a black veil."

Eventually, on his deathbed, Father Hooper gives his most clear answer as to why he is wearing the black veil and says: 

"Why do you tremble at me alone?" cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!"

What he shares with those around him is that the veil has taken on the symbolism of the secret sin that all people have. Additionally, this small piece of crepe paper has created such an intense barrier for most people of his congregation; they were unable to see past the piece of paper, unable to focus on the quality and character of the Father. Father Hooper may have started wearing the black veil in mourning for his own sins, but it becomes representative of the dark, secret sins of all and our abilities to recognize faults in ourselves and others.  

Unfortunately, Nathaniel Hawthorne never gives a black and white, concrete reason as to why Father Hooper wears the veil - the reason remains shrouded, just as the face of the Father, who wears the veil even in death.  

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