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.
Puritanism and Piety Theme Icon

“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 were born in a state of sin inherited from Adam and Eve, and that only good behavior and religious education could lead them to an eternal afterlife in Heaven. For this reason, the Puritans’ day-to-day lives and religious ceremonies were as simplified as possible: they didn’t dance, sing, wear bright colors, or go to plays. They focused, instead, on their piety, and saw their behavior as an outward manifestation of their inner goodness (and likelihood of going to heaven).

In “The Minister’s Black Veil,” Hawthorne dramatizes the conflict between Hooper’s strict Puritanism and Milford’s rather more lax Puritanism. At the beginning of the story, the townspeople are thinking “secular” thoughts as they walk to church: children are laughing, and the young men are admiring the young women. By contrast, Hooper, once he puts on the veil, seems like a paragon of Puritan virtues. He denies himself the pleasure of marriage or friendship, even though Hawthorne makes it clear that he values both of these things; when pressed for his reason, he insists that he is more concerned with his reward in heaven than with his life on earth: the quintessential Puritan tradeoff.

As the story progresses, Hawthorne shows the flaws and contradictions of Puritanism. While it’s true that Hooper’s veil encourages the townspeople to pay more attention to his sermons, and fear for the state of their souls — in a sense, to be better Puritans —Hawthorne never shows the reward for the townspeople’s “gloom.” It’s as if strict Puritanism has taken the townspeople’s joy and energy for nothing. Further, the Puritan townspeople, with their focus on sinfulness, quickly come to believe that the veil must represent Hooper’s sins, rather than understanding that through the veil he is trying to tell them to look to their own sins. Even Hooper, seemingly the perfect Puritan, may be violating his own beliefs. The black veil hides his face, but ironically, it makes him more “visible” and noticeable to the townspeople — in this sense, he could be guilty of the sin of pride. It’s not clear why Hooper is any more moral than the townspeople laughing and enjoying their Sunday walk to church — the only difference is that he’s miserable. Ultimately, Hawthorne seems to suggest, Puritanism has its good points, insofar as it encourages humans to live moral, pious lives, but it may go too far in depriving them of joy and encouraging them to “show off” their morality.

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Puritanism and Piety ThemeTracker

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Puritanism and Piety 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 Puritanism and Piety.
The Minister's Black Veil Quotes

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.


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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.

Related Characters: Reverend Hooper
Related Symbols: The Black Veil
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The townspeople emerge from church, eager to talk about Mr. Hooper's black veil. In doing so, the townspeople betray their narrow-minded ideas of good and evil, and their equally immature preoccupations on gossip and superficial appearances.

The fact that the townspeople feel "lighter" as soon as the black veil is out of sight should tell us that the townspeople are surprisingly narrow-minded when it comes to defining good and evil. The townspeople assume that Mr. Hooper must be a sinner because he's wearing a simple piece of clothing, never stopping to think that there are plenty of sinners who never signal their evil in any outward way. The townspeople live in an extremely small, close-knit community, in which people are always on the lookout for signs of unusual behavior. In this community, where appearances are everything, a black veil is practically proof of sin.

The irony of the townspeople's gossip is crystal clear: even though they're talking about Mr. Hooper's own sinfulness, they are being sinful themselves in the process, "profaning the Sabbath day." In general, the townspeople forget about their own sins in their haste to condemn Hooper.

“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.

"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."

Related Characters: Elizabeth (speaker), Reverend Hooper
Related Symbols: The Black Veil
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Elizabeth, Hooper's fiancee, tries one last time to convince her lover to remove his veil. Here, she gives one simple reason why Hooper should show his face again: otherwise the townspeople will assume that Hooper is a sinner. In essence, Elizabeth is urging Hooper to give into the small-mindedness of the community; she doesn't want to spend the rest of her life being judged by her peers for marrying a supposed "sinner."

The fact that Elizabeth would cite the townspeople's gossip as a reason for Hooper to remove his veil suggests that she's not much more open-minded than the townspeople themselves. Even if Elizabeth loves Hooper sincerely, she's not confident enough in her love and her faith to marry him: she cares more about the opinions of her neighbors.

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.