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 be doomed to a lifetime of isolation without her. As Hawthorne writes of Hooper later in life, “All through life that piece of crape had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart.”
While Hooper’s veil isolates him from Milford, it also symbolizes the isolation that all human beings experience. As he explains on his deathbed, he will remove the veil only “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.” In Hooper’s view, all humans are isolated, in the sense that they are alone with their secret sins and their guilt. Ironically, Hooper’s decision to wear a veil may have been an attempt to bridge the gap between himself and his friends by acknowledging sin and attempting to work through it.
Even if humans live in a state of isolation because of their sinfulness, Hawthorne suggests that it is possible to overcome this isolation with love, virtue, and patience. Elizabeth breaks off her engagement to Hooper, but she continues to love him and even tends to him on his deathbed. And for Hooper, who believes in the afterlife, all isolation is temporary, since in Heaven virtuous souls are united with God and with each other. Yet the fact that Hooper tries to teach his lesson on isolation and the townspeople never understand what he is trying to tell them only further reinforces the essential isolation between all people.
Isolation 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.
The sermon which he now delivered was marked by the same characteristics of style and manner as the general series of his pulpit oratory. But there was something, either in the sentiment of the discourse itself, or in the imagination of the auditors, which made it greatly the most powerful effort that had ever heard from their pastor’s lips. It was tinged, rather more darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr. Hooper’s temperament.
“Truly do I,” replied the lady; “and I would not be alone with [Hooper] for the world. I wonder he is not afraid to be alone with himself!”
Men are sometimes so,” said her husband [the physician].
“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.”
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.
"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!"