The Minister’s Black Veil Summary

The Minister’s Black Veil Summary

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The opening of “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne presents a setting that seems, from first perception, to be an idealized portrait of how one might imagine life in early America. There is a crowd gathered on the porch of the Milford meeting house comprised of all of the society’s elements from children in their Sunday best and “spruce bachelors” admiring maidens in the sunshine. This picturesque scene is interrupted, however, when the sexton sees Parson Hooper emerge as the bell ceases its tolling. He has something covering his face and the sexton’s exclamation causes the citizens to turn around to discover what the hubbub is about.

At this point the narrator describes the man, Mr. Hooper, as a clerically-dressed (in proper religious attire suiting his position) man around the age of 30. There is, in fact, nothing different about this man except for the object which prompts a number of uncomfortable responses from his parishioners, which is the black veil that obscures most of his face. This veil, which appears to be rather thick, “probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things” and interestingly, despite the presence of the veil that so confuses and frightens those in his community, he seems to be behaving in his normal reserved and austere manner.

The mysterious appearance of the veil on the face of this highly respected preacher obviously causes a great stir and some women of “delicate nerves” are so disturbed by it that they get up and leave the meeting house during his sermon. Interestingly, the new presence of the veil also marks a new topic for the preacher, Mr. Hooper, to address. The subject of the sermon is secret sin and “those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them.”

This sermon, although delivered with a “subtle power” has a disconcerting influence on the congregation. As the narrator of “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests, during Reverend Hooper’s sermon on secret sin, “each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded inequity of deed or thought.” When the sermon ends, the crowd exits the church with many unable to stifle laughter while some brood on the subject. Despite the stir his strange veil and sermon caused, Revered Hooper still stands outside of the meeting house to shake hands with his parishioners with a “sad smile” that shows under the veil, but none seem to want to talk to him and he is not invited to dine with anyone as usual.