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Symbolism In The Veil

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Symbolism In The Veil

The veil that the minister wears in “The Ministers Black Veil”, by Nathanial Hawthorne represents the emphasis on man's inner reality, and those thoughts and feelings which are not immediately obvious. As Hawthorne explored this inner nature, he found the source of dignity and virtue, and certain elements of darkness. When the minister first walks out of his home wearing the veil, everyone is astonished. This one man in this village decides to be a nonconformist and wear this veil without explanation. No one understands why the minister would wear such a veil for no reason at all. This is where all the assumptions begin to linger. All of the villagers have a story for why the veil is there. These people are not trying to understand it. These villagers are just trying convince themselves that the veil is hiding something, like a deformation of the ministers face. Others think that Mr. Hooper is hiding something else, like a secret no one is supposed to know about. This black veil conflicts with everyone in the village in some way. Is this veil a problem only because everyone is afraid of what they might be hiding? Perhaps this veil is a symbol of the mistrust Mr. Hooper has to those people closest to him or maybe he is trying to show this society that there is a greater lesson to be learned from this black veil than just an apparent one:

That mysterious emblem was never once withdrawn. It shook with his measured breath as he gave out the psalm; it through its obscurity between him and the holy page, as he read the scriptures… Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he was addressing? (1281)

After seeing the black veil upon the face of Mr. Hooper, every person in the village is feeling some sort of guilt. Mr. Hooper is forcing all these people to look deeper within themselves to understand the veils significance:

Such was the effect of this simple piece of crape, that more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the meeting-house. Yet perhaps the pale- faced congregation was almost as fearful a sight to the minister, as his black veil to them. (1281)

In reality the veil represents the secrets everyone is hiding within themselves. The unifying theme is the conflict between the dark, hidden side of man and the standards imposed by his puritanical heritage. Hawthorne brings evil and unauthorized desire into the way of puritan life, and in so doing suggests a insightful truth that is disturbing in its implication, that is to say that we can never hope to know each other's true selves. The themes in the story are suggested by the veil-symbol, the tension between the minister and the community. Every person has something to hide from the world. The veil is symbolic for the cover up of peoples secrets. Although most people would not wear a veil, the minister is proving a point. By wearing a simple black veil Mr. Hooper is making all the villagers evaluate their everyday actions in life. The symbolic value of the black veil lies in the physical and mental dilemma that it creates between the minister and his environment, and the guilt it conveys. Many people believe that the face provides information about a person's primary characteristics, therefore, predicting a persons possible behavior. As a result, by wearing the veil, the minister takes away the basis on which people can guess his behavior. This is the main reason for the minister's seclusion, even though he is made unpredictable already by the simple act of wearing the veil. Part of the frightening effect of the veil derives from the knowledge that the person behind it can see everything without being seen himself:

Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil and discovered the hoarded iniquity of deed or thought… There was nothing terrible in what Mr. Hooper said; at least, no violence; and yet, with every tremor of his melancholy voice, the hearers quaked. (1282)

Because the members of the congregation are unable to see where their minister is looking, they imagine that they are being watched more closely than usual. This concept is strengthened by the sermon, which "had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest"(1282). Thus, the minister takes on the role of "the Omniscient" [God] (1282), whose exploring look can creep into even the deepest mysteries of the human soul. More importantly, the wearing of the veil is a confession of guilt and an implication that everyone should do the same. Mr. Hooper really did not understand how much this black veil was going to affect the congregation until raising his glass in a toast for a newlywed couple and catching a glimpse of himself in the looking glass.

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