The Minister’s Black Veil Summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Minister’s Black Veil

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The Minister’s Black Veil Summary

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The Minister’s Black Veil is an 1832 short story by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, first published in Boston periodical The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, and more famously included in Hawthorne’s 1837 short-story collection Twice-Told Tales. Set in Puritan New England and focusing on an unusual Minister who always wears a black veil on his face, the short story explores themes of sin, repentance, and morality, as well as the inner lives of the clergy, and serves as a critique of the Puritan theme of original sin, The Minister’s Black Veil explores many similar themes and elements as Hawthorne’s most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. The ambiguity of the secret the Minister is concealing with his veil has let to many literary analyses and theories regarding Hawthorne’s intentions in the story, which contributes extensively to the fact that the story has remained consistently in print to this day.

The story begins with the congregation of a local church being startled by the arrival of their Reverend, Mr. Hooper. Their normally staid Reverend is arriving for Church wearing a black semi-transparent veil that obscures most of his face. This causes much discussion among the townspeople, who begin to debate the veil and its significance. When Mr. Hooper takes the pulpit, he gives a sermon on secret sin that seems more darkly toned than usual. This leads to much concern among the congregation, both about their Reverend’s strange behavior and their own secret sins. After the sermon, Reverend Hooper attends a funeral for a young woman who has recently died, still wearing his veil. Several of the mourners speculate on a secret connection between the Reverend and the young woman who died. Although the Reverend’s veil is appropriate at a funeral, when he shows up that night to a wedding wearing the same black veil, the atmosphere of the summit becomes gloomy.

By the next day, even the children of the town are discussing their Reverend’s bizarre behavior. However, no one is able to ask Reverend Hooper directly about the veil besides his fiancée, Elizabeth. Elizabeth tries to keep a cheerful demeanor to encourage him to take it off, but he refuses. Even when they are alone together, he keeps his face covered and refuses to tell her why he wears it. Eventually, Elizabeth becomes frustrated and breaks off the engagement, bidding him a tearful goodbye. Although Hooper’s personal life is falling apart, his bizarre behavior leads to him becoming a more effective clergyman. Many townspeople relate to his wearing of the veil. People with dark secrets and private sins start following him, and many dying sinners ask to speak to him before he goes. Reverend Hooper is eventually promoted to Father Hooper, and continues living in this way for the rest of his life, never taking the veil off.

It is said that the veil hangs between him and the world, separated from the cheerful brotherhood of the rest of the town, as well as the love of a woman. He is kept in a prison of his own heart that everyone can see. Although Elizabeth broke off her engagement with Hooper, she never forgets him, remaining single her whole life and keeping tabs on Reverend Hooper from afar. When she finds out that he’s near-death, she comes to be by his bedside. She asks him one last time to remove the veil, but he refuses. As he breathes his last, those around him tremble. He summons up the strength for one final speech, telling them angrily not to tremble. He says that they all wear black veils of their own, alluding to secret sins they all hold within. He then passes on, and is buried with the black veil on his face.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is considered one of the most prominent early American authors, with most of his novels centering on New England and exploring the Puritan era of American life. He is considered part of the Romantic Movement and explores themes of sin and morality. In addition to his most iconic work, The Scarlet Letter, he published a total of nine novels, including The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun. He was most prolific in his short story writing, publishing nine short story collections over his life, including two children’s books focusing on American retellings of Greek myths. He was also active in magazine publishing in his native Massachusetts. Hawthorne’s works have been adapted many times for the big screen and television, including several adaptations of The Scarlet Letter; although, there have not been any adaptations of The Minister’s Black Veil. He has often been praised for his complex, well-realized, and often tragic female characters. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works are ranked as American classics by most literary analysts and remain extensively taught and studied in high schools and colleges throughout the country.