Emerson's Idea of Nonconformity in Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil

We live in a society where nonconformity is frowned upon, where people accept the ideas and thoughts of others because of tradition, time, and trust. Is nonconforming really detrimental and wrong? What do nonconformists gain from their struggles? Conformity is when an individual or group of individuals’ ideas, personalities, practices and behaviors are affected by other influences. Their way of life is not entirely their own but based on the lives of others. Nonconformity, therefore, is failure or refusal to adhere to the popular rules, customs, or practices of the time.

In each of Hawthorne‘s short stories, there is an individual who challenges the common traditions of his society and almost always suffers for it. Hawthorne’s characters always lose something precious as a consequence for their non-conformity. They experience struggles and sacrifices but they also gain “sacred integrity.”

They learn from their own experiences rather than the words of others. Challenging known perceptions may result in an awareness of a world that may not have been so obvious and make the person more unique.

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Although Minister Hooper in Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil”, experience prejudice and isolation from society, he maintains his ”sacred integrity” till his deathbed by refusing to conform and by being honest with himself and others. Emerson’s idea of a real man with integrity is illustrated through the story of Mr.

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Hooper, whose nonconformity is a curse for him, but allows him to gain valuable insight on how human beings hide their true selves, Minister Hooper’s choice to wear black veil becomes a curse for him as the town increases their fear, disgust, and loathing over time.

The black veil even causes his own wife to leave him. Even though Mr. Hooper’s tells his wife before she leaves, ”you know now how lonely I am and how frightened to be alone behind my black veilmDo not leave me in this miserable obscurity forever!”, she leaves him anyways for a simple “mortal veil”. To have your own spouse not trust you or believe in you must have been a horrible feeling. A simple object brought so much animosity in others because of what their imaginations perceive. Their creative yet harmful prejudices brought incredible grief upon Mr. Hooperi He experienced almost no happiness in life as the quote suggests. The veil left Mrr Hooper in solitude and held in contempt by the town and his own wife. When he approaches children they “fled from his approach”, it “grieved him to the very depth of his kind heart. In the essay “Self-Reliance”, Emerson describes how the most ideal kind of human nature is in the “nonchalance of boys” who is a “master of society” and “gives an independent, genuine verdict”.

However, for Mr, Hooper, he does not meet those kinds of people in his town. Even the children who are supposed to be rebellious, free-thinking, and open-minded, are succumbed to the common idea that there is something evil in Mr Hooper. Mr. Hooper must have been disheartened when innocent children ran away wherever he walked. How can Mr, Hooper be happy when the people do have not the courage to look past the veil as just a symbol? Instead all through life the veil separated Mrr Hooper from “cheerful brotherhood and woman’s love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart”. Although the black veil obstructed Mrr Hooper from normal life, his nonconformity allowed him to explore the different reality of society to see whether or not there is value in the goodness of conformity. By becoming a symbol of a man who has obvious dark secrets, Mr. Hooper became a very effective minister.

Sinners saw a man just like them because his “converts always regarded [Mn Hooper] with a dread peculiar to themselves” and that “they had been with him behind the black veil“. The veil allowed Mr. Hooper to sympathize, even ifjust figuratively, with people who had dark secrets and sins to confess. Even “dying sinners” would not “yield their breath till [Mr. Hooper] appeared”. The sinners saw an honest man in Mr. Hooper because he was not afraid like them to keep their sins a “secret” Mr. Hooper‘s sins were symbolized through his veil but what about people who did not wear veils? How can people tell who is being truthful without labels? That is how Mr, Hooper discovered one and probably the only desirable value in his rejection of conformity and a good life. In a society without symbolic veils, nobody consciously knew what friends, families, and others were hiding in their own minds.

Sure they were happy not knowing, but that happiness is similar to self-deprecating ignorant bliss. To be human or more than human, the mind should be fed nourishing thoughts and perspectives Mr. Hooper was able to obtain a new awareness of his town. He stood outside watching everybody act as if they had nothing to hide. He was the only one being holiest about his “secrets“. As Emerson said, “under all these screens, I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are,,,But do you thing and I shall know you. Mr. Hooper dislikes all the “screens” people had on and had a hard to as a minister ascertaining whether or not these people would be saved in the afterlife, So he become a visual symbol of their faults and screens but acted the opposite of the symbol. If instead, he had taken off the veil early on, had friends, family and a wife, he probably would not have seen a different reality based on his own understanding.

If he was surrounded by others he would have been influenced by their depiction of reality. He rejected the name of the goodness that is conformity to see whether or not the way the society currently acted was truly good. Through solitude and the rejection of conformity, Mr. Hooper lived a lonely and sad life but not all was grief and the benefit of nonconformity was that of a mind with integrity, intact, and sacred. Emerson defines the “sacred integrity” of your own mind when he states that “good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it”. This means that a person is only an individual when they follow what their individual senses tell them. If a person follows what others tell them, then they are not being themselves but someone else’s words and senses.

A man maintains sacred integrity by never giving in to the perceptions of others but to himself, because right and wrong can be distorted by others but not by your own unfiltered thoughts and self-discovery.  Mr, Hooper innately knew this and kept his nonconformity till death And it was at his deathbed that he hurls out the harsh truth at present company, “Why do you tremble at me alone?‘ cried [Minister Hooper],m 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” Mrs Hooper had come upon this realization probably early on that everyone was hiding in plain sight. They all had the invisible masks they wore and because they were surrounded by like-minded people they did not notice the reality of the situation.

Through isolation and deep honest, individual thought, he came upon the conclusion that everyone had on a black veil but no one was brave enough to admit it, That is Mr. Hooper’s sacred integrity of the mind because he never gives into the happiness and pleasures of conformity and figures out the costs and benefits of conformity through himself. His mind was not tainted or biased by society and came upon a unique, profound understanding of human nature. His indifference, stubbornness, and sacrifice are symbols of his sacred integrity. As Emerson puts it, “Society everywhere is in a conspiracy against the manhood of its members…to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater”. Just because society frowns upon nonconformists does not make society right, but does it make the rejection of conformity better? If Minister Hooper had conformed, he probably would have been happier surrounded by likeminded ignorant veiled individuals. His wife would have stayed, children would not have run away, and the town would not have been so prejudiced against him However due to conformity, he would not have been able to see his own society in a different light.

Pressured by others and consumed by the happiness of “normal” life, Mr. Hooper would not have cared or bothered to experiment with a black veil and test other people’s established convictions. Liberty and individualism would have been sacrificed for conformity and a certain kind of happiness. To say a nonconformist like Mr, Hooper was not happy would not be completely true. When Hooper died, there was a “faint smile lingering on the lips”. It is a sense of individual accomplishment akin to writing a well-thought-out essay. Because Hooper knew the truth and he figured it out by himself. He was the better man as Emerson explains that it “truly demands something godlike in him to cast off the common motives of humanity”. Minister Hooper embodies the ideal man depicted by Emerson by hearing the curse of nonconformity, to seek out within himself, his own realities and truth.

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Emerson's Idea of Nonconformity in Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil. (2023, Apr 20). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/the-application-of-ralph-waldo-emerson-s-idea-of-nonconformity-on-minister-hooper-in-the-minister-s-black-veil-a-short-story-by-nathaniel-hawthorne/

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