The story the “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne tells about Reverend Hooper, a minister or a parson in a small town in Milford who became odd at the age of thirty. Reverend Hooper is a bachelor who dresses neatly, a gentleman and calm and had the reputation of being “a good preacher but not an energetic one” (Hawthorne, 2008, p. 874). He prefers to persuade his congregation to choose heavenly aspirations through “mild, persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither by the thunders of the Word”.
He is no doubt loved by his parishioners in spite of his occasional melancholic disposition.
What was odd about Reverend Hooper is that, at the age of thirty, he appeared to his congregation in a face covered with a black veil. And he wore this black veil from then on until his death many years later. This means that no man on earth had ever seen his whole face from that time on for he was in fact also buried with the black veil still on his face.
A minister wearing a black veil at all times naturally causes an unfavorable effect among the congregation and townspeople of Milford. It causes so much bustle and stir among the congregation in the first day that they witnessed it.
They were amazed and turned pale at such a display of behavior. Goodman Gray accused him of going mad while an old woman muttered that he had “changed himself into something awful” ( Hawthorne, 2008, p. 873). Moreover, the general impression is that his appearance with a black veil seemed to usher in a cloud of gloom and spirit of dread whether at a funeral or in a wedding.
The townspeople also became afraid of him and it saddened the minister that even the children stops in their merriment whenever they see him approaching. Others were afraid he was causing a scandal.
And eventually, the black veil had separated Reverend Hooper from the people, “from cheerful brotherhood and woman’s love” (Hawthorne, 2008, p. 880). The positive effect of the black veil however, was that it seemed to make his sermons, especially regarding sin, a powerful one. People who come to hear his sermons, delivered at its usual mildness, seemed to quake. Sinners feel the impact of their sins, affirming that before they came to “celestial light” they too had experienced what it feels to be behind the veil (Hawthorne, 2008, p. 879).
Moreover, Reverend Hooper became in demand for dying sinners and the latter would refuse to breathe their last until he appears beside their death chamber What was really confusing to people was that Reverend Hooper did not offer an explanation why he wore such a veil over his face. The people therefore made their own conclusions, that perhaps he committed a secret sin that was too extreme to be remained concealed. Some think he wore the veil to cater to his eccentric whims as mortals are prone to do. Reverend Hooper did not dispute such opinions.
Reading through the story, I can say that the veil served a special purpose. As Reverend Hooper had said, it could be a type and a symbol. It can be noted that he first wore the veil during a sermon on secret sin. It could mean something personal that perhaps Reverend Hooper as a minister had himself committed a secret sin and is painfully aware of its heavy weight as he said in his deathbed that “my soul hath a patient weariness until that veil be lifted” (Hawthorne , 2008, p. 881). Perhaps he was demonstrating his remorse over committing an extreme secret sin and therefore was ashamed to face the people.
On the other hand, the black veil could symbolize the secret sin or sin itself that all people commit, whether extreme or not. Through his life, he was trying to make a point to his congregation that sin is ever before them and that as sinners; man is ever separated from God and suffers its consequences. He was also demonstrating that sin is a lifetime struggle. Therefore the moral of the story is that sin had the characteristic of separating man from God and from others. Sin cast a feeling of gloom and dread, isolation, sorrow and loneliness. Sin is a reality that man should not try to hide in their own lives, to hide behind a veil.
Personally, I think that it may be possible that Reverend Hooper may have committed a secret sin (being a mortal it is not impossible for him to do so) which he cannot openly confess, especially to his fiancee. My main argument lays in the fact that he could not give a definite reason for wearing the veil. When he committed that secret sin, it must have been then that he felt the strong destructive impact of sin not only in his own life but also of that in others. The Reverend’s undue preoccupation with sin was so unusual as if the forgiveness of God was not available.
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