Essay, Research Paper: Minister`s Black Veil By Hawthorne

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”, the author chooses
to mask the character of the minister with the black veil to construct an
allegory that would compare sin concocted by imagination with unrecognized sin
of one’s self. With the story being set in the Puritan time period of the
settlement of New England, as nearly all of Hawthorne’s stories are, the
reader can logically infer a certain set of value judgements. For instance,
these people, being very sincere about their religion, are likely to see
anything out of the ordinary, such as a black-veiled minister, as a serious
issue that undermines their faith. On the surface the first sight of the veil
not only confuses the congregation, but scares them as well. This man is
supposed to be their most direct mode of communication with God, and to see him
in what they perceive to be quite a bizarre condition, must make them feel that
their religious lives may be in danger. Yet another character trait held by this
community is its inability to cope with even the slightest bit of change.
Something as trivial as a man covering his face with black crape paper literally
whips this community into a frenzy. “I don’t like it”(p.102), cried the
old woman, “Our parson has gone mad”(102), cried Goodman Gary. Without even
the slightest bit of investigation into the issue these people have brewed in
their imaginations all sorts of theories as to what is so wrong with the
minister. A third, and possibly most dangerous trait of the community, is its
almost joyous inclination toward superstition. Whether you would like to call it
Puritan myth or strait fact, this obsession with witchcraft and the supernatural
is what made Puritan New England a dangerous place to live in the 17th century.
This idea of the occult always seems to find its way into a Hawthorne story, and
The Minister’s Black Veil is no exception. Even the good doctor cannot help
but mention, “the black veil, though it covers only our pastor’s face,
throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him ghostlike from head to
foot.”(p.105). The true allegory arises from these beliefs of the community,
but does not wholly manifest it self until seen from the minister’s point of
view. Though he may contend that the veil personifies “sorrows dark enough to
be typified by a black veil.”(p.109), it is possible to infer that the veil is
actually somewhat of an experiment by the minister. On the surface he may
explain its meaning by some undefinable scruples he may hold, but underneath it
represents a test of the community. By donning the black veil the minister
realizes his fear that the people of his community are more obsessed with a sin
they are sure the minister is hiding from, then their own sins that they live in
everyday. Even his fellow man of the cloth Reverend Clark believes the minister
must have some “horrible crime upon his soul”(p.113). Not a single person
realizes the intent of the minister until his deathbed utterance that defiles
the virtue of the community. Proof positive of this realization of their fault
is the fact that while the minister was alive these people couldn’t wait to
remove the black veil, but once he is dead, unable to stop them from unmasking
him, the veil follows him to his grave. Perhaps it is reverence toward the
painful truth revealed by the minister that keeps the veil on his face, but more
likely it is simply left on in the rush to bury the man who brought to light
such a less than virtuous shortcoming. Like so many of Hawthorne’s stories,
the Minister’s Black Veil personifies the fallible nature of a people so
dedicated to living a life free of sin, when in fact they are simply ignoring
the vices that rest under their own pillows.
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