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 role does Elizabeth play in Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"?

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Mr. Hooper's fiancee, Elizabeth, is the only person in the town of Milford who is not "impressed" by the minister's black veil. She says that there "'is nothing terrible'" in it, and she asks Mr. Hooper to remove it. When he refuses, she asks him to, at least, "'Take away the veil from'" his words and be more forthcoming about why he wears the veil. She warns him that people will whisper that he has some "'secret sin,'" and he admits, "if I cover [my face] for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?'" Elizabeth falls silent and becomes thoughtful, and, suddenly, "like a sudden twilight in the air, [the veil's] terrors fell around her." She seems to understand its meaning, though she is unwilling to give voice to what she now knows.

Likewise, Mr. Hooper's congregation, during his first sermon after donning the veil, "felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought." From their fears and Elizabeth's response, we can surmise that the veil represents this secret sin that Elizabeth suggests and of which Mr. Hooper's parishioners are aware. Elizabeth's subsequent abandonment of her finance shows just how determined people are to continue to hide their secret sins from the world. She is willing to leave her betrothed rather than face (literally and figuratively) evidence of his secret sin, which prevents him from being truly known by her, as well as evidence that he knows of her own secret sins.

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Fiancee of the Reverend Mr. Hooper, Elizabeth acts as a counterpoint to the brooding minister who resembles another of Hawthorne's characters, Young Goodman Brown, a Puritan also conquered by his Calvinistic theology which embraces the idea of predestination with the dvision of the elect and the reprobate.

The loving Elizabeth comes to the minister in order to "chase away the cloud that appeared to be settling round Mr. Hooper," but when she asks him to remove the veil he dons one day before preaching, the minister refuses her,

"Know, then, this veil is a type and a symbol, and I am bound to wear it ever....If it be a sign of mourning....I, perhaps, like most other mortals, have sorrows dark enough to be typified by a black veil."

His words and his refusal to remove the veil signal the excessive pride of Mr. Hooper as he continues to wear the veil through which he looks darkly at the world and neglects his congregation whom he gives no moral message. Isolated by his own conscience, Hooper begs Elizabeth to not desert him so that there will be no veil in the hereafter to separate them. Again, Elizabeth asks the minister to remove the veil; and again he refuses. Then, Elizabeth bids him farewell, cutting him off from happiness.

Under this pall of Calvinistic determinism the Reverend Hooper lives out his life, "shrouded in dismal suspicions." But, as he enters his last dark hours, the ever-loving Elizabeth appears and tends to him, " a faithful woman at his pillow," a woman unaffected by the dark Calvinism and the crepe that has hung between Hooper and a world that has love.

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