The Minister’s Black Veil


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Minister’s Black Veil Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Minister’s Black Veil. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up in Massachusetts. As a child, he injured his leg, and was forced to spend a year in bed; he later recalled that he first developed a love for reading at this time. He attended Bowdoin College, where he was a poor student. As a young man, Hawthorne worked as an editor and wrote short stories, many of which, including “The Minister’s Black Veil,” were published in his collection Twice-Told Tales. Hawthorne was a reclusive man, but in 1842 he married a woman named Sophia, who greatly admired his work. In the mid 1840s they moved back Salem, where Hawthorne briefly worked as a surveyor, but found it difficult to concentrate on writing. In a remarkable streak that lasted from 1850 to 1860, he wrote The Scarlet Letter, one of the first true best-selling novels in the United States, The House of the Seven Gables, often regarded as his greatest book, The Blithedale Romance, his only work written in the first person, and The Marble Faun, a romance set in a fantastical version of Italy. Hawthorne died of a stomach ailment in 1864, only a few months before the end of the Civil War. His reputation in America was so great that the most important writers of the era, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Louisa May Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were pallbearers at his funeral.
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Historical Context of The Minister’s Black Veil

“The Minister’s Black Veil” is set in Milton, Massachusetts, a town in Puritan New England. The Puritans, a Protestant sect, migrated to America in the 1610s and 20s, establishing small, strictly run communities throughout New England. The Puritans wanted to strip away the ceremony and strict hierarchies of existing Christian sects, making all Christians equally close to God. At the same time, they also put a strict emphasis on proper, godly behavior – music, dance, and celebration were discouraged or even banned – and how a person acted could deeply impact whether that person was perceived as being good or worthy of heaven. In spite of its lasting reputation for theocracy and tyranny, Puritan society was very democratic relative to the time, and gave power to elected representatives, as Hawthorne briefly mentions.

Other Books Related to The Minister’s Black Veil

Another notable American work that criticizes Puritan society is Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. “The Minister’s Black Veil” is also an important precursor to Hawthorne’s later work The Scarlet Letter, which also deals with sin and ostracism in a small Puritan town. For a sample of Puritan American sermons (the kind Hooper gives after he wears the veil), Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands on an Angry God” is probably the most famous such text.
Key Facts about The Minister’s Black Veil
  • Full Title: The Minister’s Black Veil
  • When Written: 1836
  • Where Written: Beacon Hill, Boston
  • When Published: 1836
  • Literary Period: American Romanticism
  • Genre: Short story; parable
  • Setting: Milford, a Puritan town in Massachusetts
  • Climax: Reverend Hooper revealing why he wore the veil on his deathbed
  • Antagonist: The townspeople of Milford
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Minister’s Black Veil

Family connections. Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne, a descendant of John Hathorne, the Puritan judge who ordered the execution of the “witches” at the Salem Witch Trials (he shows up in The Crucible). Hawthorne was so ashamed of his ancestry that he changed his name, adding the “w”.

Powerful friends. Hawthorne was a close friend of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, and even wrote a short biography of him. In Boston, Hawthorne was neighbors with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the influential essayist and poet — unfortunately for history, Hawthorne was so shy that the two literary giants almost never spoke to one another!