“The Ministers Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story about one clergymans alienation due to his outward dressing. Reverend Hooper was a well-respected preacher who got along well with the townspeople until one day when he appeared wearing a black veil over his face that consisted “of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin” (Hawthorne 253). From that day onward, he was alienated both socially and physically from his community and from himself due to his inability to remove the veil.
Reverend Hoopers black veil caused alienation from his congregation. The minister did not even move his veil to perform marriages, which the town believed “could portend nothing but evil to the wedding” (Hawthorne 256). This odd piece of clothing caused rumors about the holy man which caused his congregation to doubt his message. The veil “and the mystery behind it, supplied a topic for discussion between acquaintances meeting in the street, and good women gossiping at their open windows” (Hawthorne 256).
The minister might have committed secret sin, or he could have used the veil to make a silent statement. Whatever his reason for his odd clothing, Reverend Hoopers veil caused more than a physical separation from the people of his town. The people felt the veil was “the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them” (Hawthorne 256). Their fear and confusion of the ministers motives caused strange behavior and unnatural withdrawal from their spiritual leader.
After the initial onset of the black veil, the minister was alienated from himself.
After performing the wedding, he caught a glimpse of himself in the looking-glass, and “the black veil involved his own spirit in the horror with which it overwhelmed all others” (Hawthorne 256). He would no longer look in a mirror at himself because “his antipathy to the veil was known to be so great” (Hawthorne 258). The veil which isolated his face from the sun and rain also kept him from his deepest fears and regrets.
Reverend Hooper could no longer face himself and decided no one else alive would be allowed to face him either. The only people who seemed to see his face and understand him were lifeless corpses. As Mr. Hooper paid his last respects to a deceased young maiden in her casket, “the veil hung straight down from his forehead” (Hawthorne 255), and a superstitious woman claimed “the corpse had slightly shuttered” (Hawthorne 255). When the minister placed the black piece of cloth over his face, he intended to keep himself from the sight of his face also.
If Reverend Hooper had found a way to deal with his sins or forgive himself, he would have been able to remove the veil and be accepted back into society as a normal individual. Whatever his reasons for wearing the veil would not allow him to do so, though. This inability to remove a simple article of clothing caused his entire life to be disrupted. He led a life which was “irreproachable by outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicions” (Hawthorne 259).
The theme of alienation is prevalent in many pieces of literature. Many people fear alienation, and this makes “The Ministers Black Veil” a more tragic story. Because of Reverend Hoopers decision to wear the veil over his face, he died without any immediate family. He had friends and colleagues by his side, but he had no family to grieve his death. His community would always doubt his ministry because of the shadow of doubt that followed Reverend Hooper everywhere he preached.
At his deathbed, those present still could not understand why he could not remove the veil just once, and Father Hooper was again alone with the knowledge of his sin. He alienated himself throughout his entire life, and would finally be free of this curse in death.