The Minister's Black Veil: Melville, Hawthorne, and James

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Herman Melville comes closer to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cynicism not Henry James. Melville thinks that Hawthorne shows you the loveliness and infatuation of life then later on frightens you with the ideas of sin, evil and guilt. James says that all that Hawthorne’s work is dark and mysterious, and simply that, nothing more, which I think is incorrect. There are plenty of reasons why Melville understands the message and pessimism behind Hawthorne’s writing that James does not see.

Hawthorne focuses more on the imperfections of a religion, where their belief is of a perfect society without any faults or sins. Hawthorne knows this is impossible, because everyone hides a sin, which they will even keep from God. In “The Minister’s Black Veil”, Hawthorne shows this secret sin in order to develop our resistance to guidance.

This is a valid reason why Melville’s quote is closer to the meaning behind Hawthorne’s message than James. If this would have been perceived by James, he would have said that it’s a dark tunnel from now, but it isn’t. Mr. Hooper at this point was trying to point the townspeople into the right direction, not at all trying to trap them into thinking that they are dark, evil beings.

Another way Hawthorne shows that Melville is accurate; he increases our strange delight to a more chilling feeling. Hawthorne demonstrates this in a quote that says: “How strange…that a simple veil, such as any woman might wear…should become such a terrible thing on Mr. Hooper...”. James comprehended this completely wrong; sure it’s just a simple veil that displays a dark and mysterious vibe, but that changes.

“I…have sorrows dark enough to be typified by a black veil”. The black veil may have been something that is and always will be dark because it hides your true self, especially in a Puritan life but it no longer stays just a veil; it’s revealed as a secret sin. Melville sees what Hawthorne was trying to show people, that it’s not all...
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