The Minister's Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The major theme of “The Minister’s Black Veil” is revealed in the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s remarks to Elizabeth when she attempts to discover why he has chosen to put on the veil. She assumes that he has decided to wear the veil only because of some secret sin or crime, but as part of the development of the major theme, he tells Elizabeth that his veil is additionally a “symbol.”

As the story progresses, the exact meaning of the veil as a symbol becomes clear. In his interview with Elizabeth, the Reverend Mr. Hooper suggests that all mortals could cover their faces just as he has because all have some secret sin or sorrow. At the end of the story, as he lies dying, the Reverend Mr. Hooper says that he sees a veil on all the faces of those who are attending his deathbed. In this way, the major theme of the story is developed; that is, it is suggested that everyone wears a black veil, that everyone has a secret sin or sorrow that is hidden from all others. Everyone could, like the Reverend Mr. Hooper, cover his face with a black veil. The Reverend Mr. Hooper has chosen to make his black veil visible while others have kept their secrets in their own hearts. However, to acknowledge one’s secret sin or sorrow exacts a high price, which is the second major theme of the story. When the Reverend Mr. Hooper dons the black veil, he is immediately set apart from his parishioners in a very special way. They no longer accept him among them as they did before the advent of the veil. The veil that so distinguishes him from his fellow villagers strikes fear in the hearts of all and causes them to dread his approach and to withdraw their friendship and companionship from him. Even his fiancé, Elizabeth, cannot marry him and must, until he is on his deathbed, love him in “secrecy” and “solitude.” Thus, because he chooses to make his secret visible, the Reverend Mr. Hooper becomes a lonely man. The black veil “separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman’s love.” Hence, one of the major themes of “The Minister’s Black Veil” is that those who acknowledge the secrets of their hearts and those who choose to stand apart from their fellows will often find that they are ostracized and may well lead lives of loneliness, prisoners in their own hearts.


(Short Stories for Students)

Alienation and Loneliness
The moment that the Reverend Mr. Hooper, a parson in the small town of Milford, puts on the black veil that he is to wear for the rest of his life, the influence of the veil becomes evident. As he delivers his first sermon wearing the veil, his congregation gets the uncanny sensation that it is not really their beloved Parson Hooper. After the service, those who usually vie for the prestige of accompanying Hooper out of the church do not do so, and a parishioner who always invites Hooper to dinner fails to invite him on this occasion. The veil so isolates him from the companionship of others that it denies him even the happiness of a marriage with Elizabeth, to whom he admits the veil's unhappy effects: ‘‘Oh! you know not how lonely I am, and how frightened, to be alone behind my black veil. Do not leave me in this miserable obscurity forever!’’ That miserable obscurity only intensifies as he adamantly continues to wear the veil, despite the pain he experiences when, again and again, certain people cross the street to avoid him, and children quit playing and run away at his approach.

Doubt and Ambiguity

(The entire section is 1,332 words.)