Without a doubt, the most important symbol in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is the black veil itself, but what it symbolizes is more complicated than it seems to either Hooper or the townspeople. To the townspeople, Hooper’s veil is a clear sign that he is trying to atone for a grave sin. Yet Hooper implies that he intends the veil to be a symbol of mankind’s general sinfulness, not any specific wrongdoing. It’s possible that these two interpretations of the veil are one and the same; in other words, the townspeople focus exclusively on Hooper’s sinfulness because, deep down, they recognize their own, and don’t want to acknowledge it.
At the same time, the veil — a thin, flimsy, article of clothing, is a symbol of the superficiality of Puritan society. The townspeople of Milford judge Hooper on his appearance, not his behavior or his character; indeed, it’s implied that Hooper himself doesn’t change at all after he puts on the veil — he only seems gloomier to the townspeople because of the veil covering his face. Finally, Hooper’s veil could symbolize his pride. Although he hides his face from the town, doing so paradoxically makes him more visible to others — in this sense, Hooper could be seen to be arrogantly raising himself above his peers.
The Black Veil Quotes in The Minister’s Black Veil
There was but one thing remarkable about his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil. On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things.
Did he seek to hide [his face] from the dread Being whom he was addressing?
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.
The people hurried out with indecorous confusion, eager to communicate their pent-up amazement, and conscious of lighter spirits the moment they lost sight of the black veil. Some gathered in little circles, huddled closely together, with their mouths all whispering in the center; some went homeward alone, rapt in silent meditation; some talked loudly, and profaned the Sabbath day with ostentatious laughter.
The clergyman stepped into the room where the corpse was laid, and bent over the coffin, to take a last farewell of his deceased parishioner. As he stooped, the veil hung straight down from his forehead, so that, if her eyelids had not been closed forever, the dead maiden might have seen his face. Could Mr. Hooper be fearful of her glance, that he so hastily caught back the black veil?
“There is an hour to come,” said he, “when all of us shall cast aside our veils. Take it not amiss, beloved friend, if I wear this piece of crape till then.”
"But what if the world will not believe that it is the type of an innocent sorrow?" urged Elizabeth. "Beloved and respected as you are, there may be whispers that you hide your face under the consciousness of secret sin. For the sake of your holy office do away this scandal."
"Have patience with me, Elizabeth!" cried he, passionately. "Do not desert me though this veil must be between us here on earth. Be mine, and hereafter there shall be no veil over my face, no darkness between our souls. It is but a mortal veil; it is not for eternity. Oh, you know not how lonely I am, and how frightened to be alone behind my black veil!
Among all its bad influences, the black veil had the one desirable effect of making its wearer a very efficient clergyman. By the aid of his mysterious emblem—for there was no other apparent cause—he became a man of awful power over souls that were in agony for sin. His converts always regarded him with a dread peculiar to themselves, affirming, though but figuratively, that before he brought them to celestial light they had been with him behind the black veil.
In this manner Mr. Hooper spent a long life, irreproachable in outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicions; kind and loving, though unloved and dimly feared; a man apart from men, shunned in their health and joy, but ever summoned to their aid in mortal anguish.
"Why do you tremble at me alone?" cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble also at each other. Have men avoided me and women shown no pity and children screamed and fled only for my black veil? What but the mystery which it obscurely typifies has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend, the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin,—then deem me a monster for the symbol beneath which I have lived and die. I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a black veil!"