12/24/2011

Veiled Sin

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Have you ever caught yourself trying to hide the truth from those most closest to you? Everyone has some dark secret to hide from the world, and it naturally wants to be buried. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil, Mr. Hooper does the exact opposite by hiding his face with a black veil that shows his sin. This black covering is an emblem that represents not only his sin, but the sin of all who view it. There are three elements to the symbolism in the story; Rev Hooper, the black veil and his wife Elizabeth.


Mr. Hooper “had the reputation of a good preacher” and was well liked by the community, that’s why his actions affected the community the most (157). When he first wore the black veil the parishioners were amazed and startled, even though the cause “appears significantly slight” (157). By hiding his face with the crape he outwardly hides sin, his face representing the hidden sin. The specific features of his face would then allude to the different aspects of the sin he hides. He is unable to look upon his face without “horror” and “his whole frame shudders” when he catches a glimpse of it (160). Mr. Hooper being aware of the depravity of his soul only wishes to help others realize their own depraved nature. He serves as a symbol of the pious community, the Mr. being the most exemplified figure. It can be inferred then, that if he is the community, his face is not only his sin, but sin as a whole. The decision to cover his face is an outward admittance to guilt and the shame involved.


The veil is “two folds of crape” close enough to the face that it reacts to every breath, and most accurately symbolizes the desire to hide one’s sin (157). When Mr. Hooper realizes his own sin he resists the natural instinct to hide it and instead outwardly shows it with the veil. Like everyone else he has something to hide, yet this man is viewed as pious because he willingly admits and shows his sin. The community reacts negatively and despises the black veil; “how strange that a simple black veil, […], should become such a terrible thing” (15). The community did not understand why they reacted as they did, but Mr. Hooper was fully aware. What the people did not see, or chose not to see, in Mr. Hooper’s outward display of hidden sin was their buried sins. He saw “on every visage a Black Veil” and seemed only concerned with their salvation when bringing it to their attention (165). They were to stricken by shame, and desired so much to retain their own pious reputations and shunned the good Mr. Hopper. The veil then became a wall between the Mr. and the world. When he passed in the streets, “the gentle and timid would turn aside to avoid him” and the children would stop their play (16). The veil was not without any decent side effect; one such effect was that it made him an “efficient clergyman.” He “became a man of awful power, over souls that were in agony for sin” (16). He had a clear purpose for serving, and was steadfast in resolution to keep it on. When coaxed to remove it on his death bed, Mr. Hooper strongly resisted stating that “there is an hour to come when all of us shall cast aside our veils” (165). With death at his bed, he still was aware of the sin that existed, and looked forward to a place beyond where he can cast away his veil without shame.


Mr. Hooper touched many people with his message, and all though his life was lonely and tragic, he was able to help others. Elizabeth, his wife, reflects the clarification that comes from truth about sin when it is accepted. In the beginning, se is the only one brave enough to question him regarding the black veil. She was the one person in the village “unappalled by the awe with which the black veil had impressed” (161). She begged him, as his wife, to remove the crape, but he could not oblige. Then finally she realized why he wore it, “like a sudden twilight in the air, its terrors fell around her” (16). She could not accept it though, just as the community could not even bear to even look at it. He explained to her that it being “a mortal veil � it is not for eternity,” but she was too stricken by the fear she left (16). Elizabeth returned and stayed with him through the years, her “affection had endured […] amid the chill of age, and would not perish, even at the dying hour” (164). One of the few beside him at his last moments, she understood the silent message he preached with his black veil.


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Each face has a fa├žade, a mask, and each person is an actor in the theatre of life. Mr. Hooper was faithful enough to realize his own sin, and strong enough to show it outwardly to the world in hopes of helping others confess their sins. His efforts were not well accepted because while he was revealing his own sins others were taking notice of theirs as well.





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