Literature in America started a new revolution of style in the first half of the nineteenth century. Authors began looking for symbolism to provide an educational story about sin. The underlining message in many of these stories was to leave the reader with a new perspective of their lives and ways they can improve themselves for the betterment of society. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart,” and Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” all provide symbolism teaching about the effects of committing secret sins. Many of Hawthorne’s writings focus on one single symbol, and “The Minister’s Black Veil” is not any different. The entire story is developed around the small black veil that Reverend Hooper wears to hide his face from the rest of the world. The veil is described by “swathed about his forehead, and handing down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath” (623). The story’s chilling tone and the cruel Puritan setting serve to emphasize the troubling behavior of Reverend Hooper and the concern with the nature of secret sin and all human’s fallen nature.
Reverend Hooper first reveals his new veil during Sunday morning service. The people in the church are shocked to see him wearing a veil that covers his face from his forehead to mouth, and without explanation, Reverend Hooper continues the service unconcerned with their speculations. Although the readers at this time do not know what the black veil means, they receive several clues as to what it represents. Hawthorne immediately jumps into the theme of secret sin by assembling Reverend Hooper’s sermon that revolves around secret sin and “those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them” (624). The congregation believes that the Reverend is using the veil as a simple sermon illustration instead of a lifetime commitment. They “felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought” (624). Reverend Hooper’s sermon clearly causes the congregation to recall their secret sins, making each one squirm in their seats. Hawthorne allows the readers to understand the Reverend’s reasoning of hiding the secret sin by using the black veil, the true meaning of which the characters in the story do not completely understand.
Another huge indication for the veil representing secret sin is Reverend Hooper’s conversation with his fiancée. Elizabeth feels as though she has the right to see his face, and presses the issue. He refuses and gives a mysterious explanation that “there is an hour to come…when all of us shall cast aside our veils. Take it not amiss, beloved friend, if I wear this piece of crape till then” (627). Reverend Hooper has made a vow to wear the veil until his death. He explains that the black veil is a type, or an “object that symbolically embodies or reveals a religious idea” (627). This discussion between Reverend Hooper and Elizabeth ends their relationship. Hawthorne uses the conversation symbolically to show how secret sins can separate people from each other; Reverend Hooper told Elizabeth, “This dismal shade must separate me from the world” (627). He knows that the veil will create separation between him and the world, just as sin creates a barrier between man and God.
Although the black veil has several negative affects towards Reverend Hooper, there is one good effect. It makes Reverend Hooper a very efficient clergyman. He becomes known throughout the parishes: “he acquired a name throughout the New-England churches, and they called him Father Hooper…he had one congregation in the church, and a more crowded one in the church-yard” (629). The fact that the minister wears the symbol of secret sin draws many people because they think he can understand their suffering. “His converts always regarded him with a dread...
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