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Nathaniel Hawthorne tells a story titled The Minister’s Black Veil, of a minister that views himself as a representative of God. Hawthorne instills the qualities of loyalty and commitment in his main character, Parson Hooper, because although he is being shunned by the community, he fulfills his vow to God. Hooper believes that by wearing the black veil, he is doing God’s work of helping people save themselves, thereby sacrificing his position in the social class.
Hawthorne uses many symbols to represent parts of the story that he does not utterly explain in detail. The first symbol he uses is the black veil that Parson Hooper wears on top of his head to cover his face. This is a result of Hooper’s belief that one sinner could threaten the entire community. The people living in his community must recognize that the veil symbolizes their sins, and that they must confess in order to save themselves. Hooper cannot blatantly tell them what the veil represents because he cannot save them himself. Being a disciple of God, the minister trusts that he could get the members of the community to see their sins by reflecting them symbolically in the black veil. The color of the veil, black, symbolizes darkness, evil, and ignorance. Hooper does this in order for the rest of the community to be in harmony with God. The black veil changes its meaning from the beginning of the story to the end, and also symbolizes something different to different people. To Parson Hooper, it is used as a symbol to represent his work for God, and this meaning stays constant to him throughout the story. In the beginning, the black veil was seen as a depiction of evil by the citizens. As Hooper is being buried, civilians decide to bury him with the black veil due to his powerful speech. This suggests that people realized that the black veil was for the use of good and not evil. To Hooper’s fiancé, Elizabeth, the veil symbolizes clouds covering sunshine (his face). Towards the end of the story, she breaks down because she recognizes her sins in the veil.
The minister himself, due to his religion, is represented as a symbol of God. His vow to God involves influencing sinners to see and confess their wrongdoings by wearing a black veil. In Hooper’s perspective, he views himself as a symbol of God from beginning to end. In the civilians perspective, they recognize his duty of doing God’s work, until he starts actually wearing the black veil. Throughout the story, people begin to view him and the black veil as a representation of evil. As a result, Hooper was shunned by the rest of the community.
Children are used in the story to symbolize the future. In the beginning of the story, Hooper is admired by the children in the community. He views them as the future of their society, and how they should consistently be in church, behaving like their parents. As the story goes on, and Parson Hooper begins wearing the veil, the children begin to pay him no attention. Hooper believes that it is essential for everyone in the community, bachelors/bachelorettes, adults, and most importantly, children, to rid themselves of their sins and save themselves in order for society to keep going.
Parson Hooper is engaged to be married to Elizabeth, which in turn symbolizes happiness and harmony with the world. But why does Hooper sacrifice his harmony with the world for his harmony with God? As a minister, his main priority is to do God’s work. While speaking to his fiancé Hooper explains his devotion to God when he says, “…this veil is a type and a symbol, and I am bound to wear it ever, both in light and darkness, in solitude and before the gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar friends. No mortal eye will see it withdrawn. This dismal shade must separate me from the world, even you, Elizabeth, can never come behind it (208)!” In this scene, Elizabeth’s persistency in wanting Hooper to take the veil off leads her to comprehend his reasoning behind it all. When recognizing her sins in the veil, Elizabeth gives Hooper an ultimatum; he either takes the veil off, or he risks losing her love. In the end, Hooper sacrifices his happiness and harmony with Elizabeth to remain in harmony with God.
Hooper’s character begins the story in harmony with the world, himself, and God. He is in harmony with the world because he is respected by society and is engaged to be married to Elizabeth. He is in harmony with himself and God because he is tenacious at keeping his vow to God. Hooper had lost everyone’s respect when he began wearing the black veil, but this did not change his character whatsoever. He remained loyal to his religion with no hesitation. Someone in the church had said, “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face(203),” showing the readers that Hooper is no longer in harmony with the world. In doing so, he loses the love of his life and his position in the social class.
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