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The Minister's Black Veil

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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What is the moral lesson of "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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The moral lesson of "The Minister's Black Veil" is that all people have hidden sins. However, most people would rather deny this than accept the messenger who reminds them of this truth. Mr. Hooper wears the black veil in the hopes that the people of his parish will understand its symbolism, that no one is without sin, yet it instead repels those in his community whom he was so trying to reach.

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The moral lesson of "The Minister's Black Veil " is that we all are sinners. We all have a sin—have made a mistake—that has hurt others, and we all hide our shadow side. As the Reverend Hooper tells his fiancée, Elizabeth, the black veil is a symbol of his...

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Instead of understanding the moral message that they are sinners and should look inward to see what separates them from other people—what is the "black veil" in their own lives—people shun Reverend Hooper and treat him as an "other." They refuse to see that they are just like him. Instead, they are made uncomfortable and so distance themselves from him, deciding that he must be exceptionally bad. It could be interpreted that one young woman projects her own sexual desires onto him, thinking he must have had illicit sex and that this is why he now dons the veil.

Rather than bringing him closer to others in the shared recognition of mutual sin, the veil separates Hooper from the "good" people in his parish but brings him closer to those who acknowledge their sinfulness. They realize that he can understand their brokenness.

Honesty in their pastor doesn't incite praise or soul searching in the people of Milford but, instead, a rush to denial. They would rather isolate and reject him than look at his veil and all the uncomfortable thoughts it brings up about their own sin.

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What is the theme of "The Minister's Black Veil"?

Nathaniel Hawthorne explores the theme of secret sin throughout his classic short story "The Minister's Black Veil." Reverend Mr. Hooper is the protagonist of the story, who is depicted as a mild-mannered preacher in the town of Milford. One day, Reverend Hooper decides to wear a black veil to conceal his face before he preaches a sermon on secret sin. The reverend's black veil metaphorically represents the way that seemingly righteous, upright Christians hide their sins and conceal their wickedness in order to avoid public scrutiny. Reverend Hooper's black veil is a symbol that depicts how people hide their private transgressions behind their smiles and positive reputations. Mr. Hooper's congregation is disturbed and puzzled by his ominous black veil and begin talk behind his back about the unsettling veil. Reverend Hooper refuses to remove his black veil, which causes the citizens to remain aloof and spread rumors about him. Mr. Hooper's fiancé, Elizabeth, ends up leaving him and he is treated as an outcast in his hometown. On his deathbed, Mr. Hooper refuses to remove the black veil and publicly reveals its symbolic nature by yelling that everyone he knows wears a metaphorical black veil to hide their innermost, private transgressions while still appearing outwardly righteous.

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What is the theme of "The Minister's Black Veil"?

The theme of this short story addresses the subject of sin and the fact that each of us is a sinner, though we all attempt to conceal our sinfulness from one another.  The subject of Mr. Hooper's first sermon after he begins to wear the veil is this "secret sin," and every single parishioner, hearing his words, feels as if he had "discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought."  In other words, from the innocent young maiden to the oldest and most "hardened" man, not a one feels him or herself to be without sin, though, as Mr. Hooper suggests, we "would [all] fain conceal" this from our fellows, ourselves, and even God.  He wears the veil, then, as a symbol of the way in which we attempt to hide our true sinful natures from the world; we each hold up a figurative veil before our real selves, and this is an incredibly sad state of affairs for the minister.  We seem to care more about the appearance of sinlessness than actually becoming sinless.

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What is the moral of "The Minister's Black Veil"?

The theme of "The Minister's Black Veil" is that secret sin exists in people, and they are hypocritical about their sins, pretending that they are guileless.  This condition is especially true in Mr. Hooper's Puritan congregation since revealing one's sins makes one vulnerable to public punishment or ostracism by the community.  Because of the fear of punishment or ostracism, the congregation, therefore, becomes very uneasy when the minister dons the black veil for his sermon, but does not discard it afterwards:

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.

So uncomfortable are the congregation that those who normally invite him to dinner on Sunday, do not. Even his fiancee breaks off their marriage plans after Mr. Hooper refuses to remove his veil.  Adamant to the end, on his deathbed, the minister retains his veil.  He speaks to the "circle of pale spectators":

'Why do you tremble at me alone?....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 showshis 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!'

The moral of Hawthorne's story is much the same as that of his novel, "The Scarlet Letter":  "Be true! Be true!"  Do not hide sin; reveal your innermost heart to your friends so that you will not be separated from the world by your sin.

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What is the message in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

The message of this short story is that each of us, as a human being, has a nature to commit sin, and if we were honest about that sinfulness with our peers, then we would have more meaningful relationships and no longer fear that our "hoarded iniquity of deed or thought" will be discovered by others. In the first sermon Mr. Hooper gives after he begins to wear the black veil, he speaks of "secret sin" as well as the "sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest." We would even, he says, hide them from ourselves and from God—"the Omniscient"—if we could, but we cannot, because God sees and knows all. This is why the symbolic veil is removed when we die and go to our judgment.

As Mr. Hooper speaks, each member of his congregation feels that he has "crept upon them behind his awful veil and discovered" their own secret sins. However, no one is willing to admit that they understand the meaning of the veil he now wears, because this would be tantamount to admitting that they, too, are sinful. The veil physically separates him from everyone else, just as our insistence on hiding our sins intangibly separates everyone from everyone else. No one can truly know anyone else, because everyone is hiding this part of their nature.

Even Mr. Hooper's fiancée, Elizabeth, cannot deal with the veil once she understands its meaning, as she covers up her own eyes—just as Mr. Hooper's are covered by the veil. She is unwilling to see him fully and to be fully seen by him for the sinners that they both are; it is, perhaps, too vulnerable a feeling for her. However, if everyone were to simply admit to their sins, there would be far less judgment in the world.

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What is the main point in "The Minister's Black Veil"?

You would be wise to consider why Hawthorne gave this excellent short story the title that he did. The black veil clearly plays a massively important role, and it is crucial to realise the symbolic significance of the black veil in the story. The black veil represents the secret sins that all of us have and are not honest about. Consider how Mr. Hooper explains himself to his betrothed, Elizabeth:

"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."

Mr. Hooper is therefore wearing the black veil because he has learnt the lesson that others shudder to acknowledge and run away from - that in the heart of every human lies a darkness and sin that we deny and pretend does not exist.

Thus the symbol of the black veil is so potent because it literally separates us from others and even from our Maker as we try to pretend that this darkness is not within us. However, as Mr. Hooper recognises, we can only ever hope to wear this "veil" whilst we are on earth, for when we die, this veil will be stripped away and we will see ourselves for who we really are and others will see us as well. All pretence will be stripped away. This, I would say, would be the most important point of this story. It would be worth your while to consider how the other characters in this story respond to the "truth" that Hooper has discovered and what their response shows about them.

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What are the morals to the story of "The Minister's Black Veil"?

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "The Minister's Black Veil", The Reverend Mr. Hooper decides to don a black crepe veil that only allows the parishioners to see his mouth move.

This is a pretty strange and creepy move from an otherwise straight and dignified man. Especially one who is young, well-respected in his church community and who is even engaged to be married. What would the flock think? Why does he make this choice? What would his fiancee say?

During the first sermon with the veil on, Mr. Hooper talks about secret sins, that is, about everybody's capacity to lead a life of sin. This life of sin is kept by all of us under a veil of silence, hypocrisy, and obedience. Underneath this veil, there are all seven sins awaiting to pounce over each of us under the secrecy of the masks that we all wear.

This is the basic moral that we get from the decision of wearing the black veil, as well as from the story, itself. Hawthorne creates a character that stubbornly chooses to distance himself from society in order to demonstrate the way in which our masks distance us from each other. What lurks within our souls is, basically, despicable. Hiding it, however, while showing a face of purity, is a direct insult to God and others. The basic idea that Hooper tries to instill is: admit that you all wear masks and admit that they hide your sins.

"Why do you tremble at me alone?' [..] 'Tremble also at each other! [..]What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crepe so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when a 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!

Granted, this story never really appeases the reader. It is as if there is not enough substance in Hooper's argument. More questions are asked, than answers are given. However we can conclude that the themes that can be understood are:

  • The reality of human sin versus our inability to admit it.
  • Loneliness and isolation as a result of sin.
  • The capability of hypocrisy, even from so called "church-going people".
  • The horrid reality of moral sin and how it "darkens" our existence the way that the veil, which represents sin, darkens Mr. Hooper's view of life.
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