“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

MinistersBlackVeilYesterday I told my daughter what I was doing as far as blog posts for the month of October. She quickly suggested that I write a post about The Minister’s Black Veil. She said it wasn’t exactly horror, per se, but it was definitely creepy in a psychological sense. The fact that my daughter would suggest Hawthorne made me a proud father indeed, and the fact that the story she suggested was one that I was unfamiliar with solidified this as the choice for my next post.

It was no surprise that this is a very symbolic tale. In fact, the subtitle is “A Parable,” which implies that there is a moral lesson to be learned and that lesson is likely represented symbolically in the story. To briefly summarize the story, it is a tale about one Reverend Hooper, a minister in a puritanical town, who makes the decision to wear a black veil for the rest of his life, without providing a reason to any of the townsfolk. The townsfolk are horrified by the veil, which they view as a “symbol of a fearful secret between him and them.”

The veil separates Hooper from the rest of humanity. It represents a wall behind which he is trapped, a prisoner within himself. He can never truly connect with another person because there is always a part of him that is hidden, some dark aspect of the self which can never be shown.

All through life the 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 prisons, his own heart…

Hawthorne is essentially asserting that we all have dark secrets, aspects of ourselves of which we are ashamed, afraid, or disgusted. We harbor thoughts and memories of things that make us sad or fill us with anger and remorse. As a result, no one can really know another person completely. There will always be thoughts or feelings that are not expressed, which remain hidden behind the 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!”

Reverend Hooper claims that a time will come “when all of us shall cast aside our veils.” But this will never happen as long as we harbor prejudices against others and hide our thoughts. Humanity as a whole must attain a level of acceptance where we realize that we are all the same, that we all have our dark secrets and our inner fears. Once we can accept that about ourselves and others, we can start to open up and hopefully shed our veils.

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