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.
Isolation Theme Icon

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.

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Isolation ThemeTracker

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Isolation Quotes in The Minister’s Black Veil

Below you will find the important quotes in The Minister’s Black Veil related to the theme of Isolation.
The Minister's Black Veil Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Reverend Hooper
Related Symbols: The Black Veil
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, the narrator establishes the basics of the titular black veil. Mr. Hooper, the town preacher, shows up for church one Sunday morning wearing a black veil on his face and offering absolutely no explanation for why he does so.

One important detail to notice here is that the veil prevents other people from seeing Mr. Hooper's face, and yet doesn't entirely prevent Mr. Hooper from seeing other people's faces. In brief, there is a kind of asymmetry in the veil: Hooper continues to see other people more or less the same way he did previously (they just have a "darkened aspect"), but other people see Hooper completely differently than they did before. Hawthorne will continue exploring the symbolic meanings of the black veil for the rest of his story.


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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.

Related Characters: Reverend Hooper
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this ambiguous passage, Hawthorne leaves it up to readers to decide what is real and what is happening in the townspeople's minds. Mr. Hooper delivers a sermon that the townspeople find to be markedly different from his usual Sunday offering. The sermon is dark, serious, and intimidating—or at least it seems so to the townspeople. But as Hawthorne makes clear, whatever difference the townspeople think they're hearing may be a product of their "imagination," rather than any actual difference in Mr. Hooper's speaking style or content.

The ambiguity in this section points to the broader ambiguity of the story itself. We don't know who has truly "changed"—Mr. Hooper, or the townspeople. In other words, Hawthorne leaves it unclear whether Mr. Hooper has committed a sin and is punishing himself for it, or whether Mr. Hooper is exactly the same person he's always been—albeit with a black veil on his face—and the townspeople are only treating him differently because of their prejudices and insecurities about their own sinfulness.

“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].

Related Characters: The physician (speaker), Reverend Hooper
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the physician finally shows signs of understanding the deeper meaning of the black veil. As far as the majority of the town is concerned, Mr. Hooper's veil has exactly one meaning: he's a sinner. But for the physician, the veil has a darker, more general significance. The veil reminds him that all men—i.e., not just Hooper—are afraid to be alone with themselves. In other words, all human beings have secrets to hide, and at times the weight of their sins is too much to bear.

The physician's interpretation of the veil suggests that perhaps Hooper decided to wear a veil in order to remind the townspeople of their own sinful nature: Hooper tries to be an example, externalizing his sin in order to remind his peers of their own sin. If this is Hooper's aim, then he mostly fails. Most of the townspeople (except the physician) miss the point of the veil altogether. Or perhaps they're so frightened of the veil because, deep down, they are reminded of their own sinfulness.

“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.”

Related Characters: Reverend Hooper (speaker), Elizabeth
Related Symbols: The Black Veil
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hooper's young fiancee, Elizabeth, begs him to remove his veil so that they can be happily married, without the gossip of the townspeople distracting them from happiness. Hooper explains that he'll keep his veil on, because life is short: compared with an eternity in Heaven, a couple decades with a veil is nothing.

The scene illustrates the strange combination of arrogance and humility in Hooper's personality. Elizabeth wants Hooper to remove his veil so that they can have a happy life together. Hooper refuses to give in to Elizabeth's desires because he's more focused on his afterlife in Heaven than he is than his life on Earth. To a Puritan, Hooper's refusal might seem like a paragon of Christian virtue (the Puritans were told that they should focus on Heaven, not Earth). And yet Hooper's continued fidelity to his veil draws more attention to him in the community. So while it's possible to read Hooper's behavior as humble and pious, it's also possible to interpret it as hubris disguised as modesty: Hooper is raising himself above other men with this outward show of humility.

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.

Related Characters: Reverend Hooper
Related Symbols: The Black Veil
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Hawthorne explains how Hooper's veil acts as a teaching tool for the Puritan community. When he wears the black veil, Hooper becomes a more powerful preacher: the veil becomes a visual aid, enhancing his descriptions of sin and damnation. The veil is so powerful, indeed, that sinners sometimes choose to convert to Christianity simply to avoid the awful fate that the veil symbolizes.

The converts Hawthorne mentions here have learned an important lesson from Hooper, thanks to the veil. And yet they're still missing the point. The sight of the black veil reminds the converts of their own sinfulness, and compels them to be better Christians. But the converts also seemingly continue to assume that Hooper himself is a sinner, simply because of the clothing he chooses to wear. In other words, even when the townspeople recognize that the veil is a symbol of their own sins, they still can't help but think of the veil as a mark of Hooper's guilt—and so he remains isolated even from those whose souls he has "saved."

"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!"

Related Characters: Reverend Hooper (speaker), Reverend Clark
Related Symbols: The Black Veil
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

In this final passage from the story, Hooper gives an explanation for his behavior that explains everything and nothing. On his deathbed, Hooper offers one final "sermon": (the presence of "pale spectators" is supposed to remind us of the opening scene of the story, in which Hooper preaches in the church). When asked why he's chosen to wear a black veil for his entire life, Hooper responds by claiming that everyone around him wears a black veil, too. In other words, Hooper believes that all human beings shelter secret sins—the only difference is that Hooper has externalized his own sins, while most people hide their sins from others. Furthermore, Hooper rejects the way his fellow townspeople have ignored him over the years—the fact that he's wearing a veil should make no difference, he claims. Because everyone "wears a veil"—i.e., because everyone is a sinner—Hooper is no more terrifying than any of his peers; indeed, he may be better than his peers, since he's at least being honest and upfront about his sinful nature. In ignoring Hooper, the townspeople are ignoring their own hidden sins, arrogantly behaving as if they have nothing to hide when, in fact, they do.

The problem with Hooper's explanation is that, arguably, he's dodging the question. Hooper was asked why he suddenly decided to wear the veil (could it have been his affair with the young woman?). So in a way, Hooper is concealing his sinfulness: he's disguising the specific sin he committed under the guise of teaching a "moral lesson" to the townspeople. Furthermore, Hooper's behavior in this climactic scene seems arrogant and grandiose—he seems to enjoy intimidating his peers, raising himself above others in order to strike fear and guilt into their hearts.

In the end, there's no "right" interpretation of the story: perhaps Hooper is hypocritical; perhaps the townspeople are; perhaps everyone is. But of course, how you choose to interpret the story is meant to speak towards your personality and your attitude toward good and evil.