The Minister’s Black Veil

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Themes and Colors
Puritanism and Piety Theme Icon
Appearance, Perception, and Interpretation Theme Icon
Sin and Guilt Theme Icon
Teaching by Example Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Minister’s Black Veil, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

“The Minister’s Black Veil” takes place in a small Puritan community, so understanding the tenets of Puritanism is crucial to understanding the story. The Puritans were a Christian Protestant sect that emerged in the early 1600s in England. They were quickly banished from the country for their “subversive” beliefs, leading Puritan “pilgrims” to travel to America and establish small colonies in the region that’s still called New England. The Puritans believed that all human beings…

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Puritan communities were extremely small and close-knit. Thus, townspeople acted as each other’s enforcers — if someone misbehaved, everyone else would know about it. Hawthorne makes this dynamic clear in the first paragraph of “The Minister’s Black Veil,” when he describes the way the sexton alerts the entire town to Hooper’s altered appearance. In Hooper’s funeral sermon, he says that God is always watching, but the truth is that the townspeople are always watching…

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Hooper believes that everyone lives in a state of sin, inherited from Adam and Eve. He explains this on his deathbed, saying that everyone wears a “black veil.” But the black veil over his own head could symbolize a specific sin he’s committed, or it could be a teaching tool that represents his inherent evilness as a human being. The townspeople assume that Hooper has committed a specific crime, and because their Puritan community recognizes…

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There’s a long-standing tradition in Christianity of “teaching by example”: passing on moral lessons to others by making oneself an illustration. (One famous Christian who taught by example was Saint Augustine, who used his own life story, recorded in the Confessions, to show that Christian salvation is available to all human beings, no matter how sinful they are.) One of the key questions in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is whether or not the “teaching…

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Immediately after Hooper wears the black veil, the people of Milford isolate him from their community. Children and their parents refuse to respond when he greets them, Squire Saunders “forgets” to invite him to dinner, and even his fiancée, Elizabeth, abandons him. These changes are especially painful for Hooper because, Hawthorne notes, he is a friendly, loving person. Before Elizabeth leaves him, he begs her to stay, knowing full well that he will…

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