Symbolism In The Veil
The veil that the minister wears in â€œThe Ministers Black Veilâ€, by Nathanial Hawthorne represents the emphasis on man's inner reality, and those thoughts and feelings which are not immediately obvious. As Hawthorne explored this inner nature, he found the source of dignity and virtue, and certain elements of darkness. When the minister first walks out of his home wearing the veil, everyone is astonished. This one man in this village decides to be a nonconformist and wear this veil without explanation. No one understands why the minister would wear such a veil for no reason at all. This is where all the assumptions begin to linger. All of the villagers have a story for why the veil is there. These people are not trying to understand it. These villagers are just trying convince themselves that the veil is hiding something, like a deformation of the ministers face. Others think that Mr. Hooper is hiding something else, like a secret no one is supposed to know about. This black veil conflicts with everyone in the village in some way. Is this veil a problem only because everyone is afraid of what they might be hiding? Perhaps this veil is a symbol of the mistrust Mr. Hooper has to those people closest to him or maybe he is trying to show this society that there is a greater lesson to be learned from this black veil than just an apparent one:
That mysterious emblem was never once withdrawn. It shook with his measured breath as he gave out the psalm; it through its obscurity between him and the holy page, as he read the scripturesâ€¦ Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he was addressing? (1281)
After seeing the black veil upon the face of Mr. Hooper, every person in the village is feeling some sort of guilt. Mr. Hooper is forcing all these people to look deeper within themselves to understand the veils significance:
Such was the effect of this simple piece of crape, that more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the meeting-house. Yet perhaps the pale- faced congregation was almost as fearful a sight to the minister, as his black veil to them. (1281)
In reality the veil represents the secrets everyone is hiding within themselves. The unifying theme is the conflict between the dark, hidden side of man and the standards imposed by his puritanical heritage. Hawthorne brings evil and unauthorized desire into the way of puritan life, and in so doing suggests a insightful truth that is disturbing in its implication, that is to say that we can never hope to know each other's true selves. The themes in the story are suggested by the veil-symbol, the tension between the minister and the community. Every person has something to hide from the world. The veil is symbolic for the cover up of peoples secrets. Although most people would not wear a veil, the minister is proving a point. By wearing a simple black veil Mr. Hooper is making all the villagers evaluate their everyday actions in life. The symbolic value of the black veil lies in the physical and mental dilemma that it creates between the minister and his environment, and the guilt it conveys. Many people believe that the face provides information about a person's primary characteristics, therefore, predicting a persons possible behavior. As a result, by wearing the veil, the minister takes away the basis on which people can guess his behavior. This is the main reason for the minister's seclusion, even though he is made unpredictable already by the simple act of wearing the veil. Part of the frightening effect of the veil derives from the knowledge that the person behind it can see everything without being seen himself:
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 the hoarded iniquity of deed or thoughtâ€¦ There was nothing terrible in what Mr. Hooper said; at least, no violence; and yet, with every tremor of his melancholy voice, the hearers quaked. (1282)
Because the members of the congregation are unable to see where their minister is looking, they imagine that they are being watched more closely than usual. This concept is strengthened by the sermon, which "had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest"(1282). Thus, the minister takes on the role of "the Omniscient" [God] (1282), whose exploring look can creep into even the deepest mysteries of the human soul. More importantly, the wearing of the veil is a confession of guilt and an implication that everyone should do the same. Mr. Hooper really did not understand how much this black veil was going to affect the congregation until raising his glass in a toast for a newlywed couple and catching a glimpse of himself in the looking glass. Right then is when Mr. Hooper realized, â€œthe Earth, too, had on her black veil (1284)â€. This means that everyone is hiding. Norms in society greatly affect the way people handle encounters with certain things. Most people would not wear a black veil for no reason at all. Usually a veil is represented with mourning or shamefulness. Are the people afraid of what the veil represents to Mr. Hooper or are they afraid of what it represents to themselves?
It is obvious that Mr. Hooper is afraid of people's faithfulness to each other and to God. It is as if Mr. Hooper is testing to see if the love and companionship of others is unreliable and simply for self gain. By seeing the reactions of all the villagers to this black veil, Mr. Hooper sees that it is affecting everyone in a similar way. People seem to be afraid of it, not only because it is not normal but because every time the congregations sees this veil they are reminded of all of the negative maybe horrid things they have done.
In a conversation between the minister and Elizabeth, the Minister says, â€œIf I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enoughâ€¦ and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same? (1285)â€ This seems to justify to the minister why the veil is worn. Would any other human wear a veil to cover up a sin? Metaphorically speaking, yes. Everyone wears a veil on a daily basis. No one is able to see these veils but they are in fact there covering up all the things human beings donâ€™t want other people to see. The Minister was deeply saddened by the coldness of the people:
It grieved him, to the very depth of his kind heart to observe how the children fled from his approach, breaking up their merriest sports, while his melancholy figure was yet afar off. (1286)
The black veil had done exactly what the Mr. Hooper thought that it might do. â€œIt had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart (1287-88). He had no one left to trust other than God. In wearing the veil he sacrificed all companionship and dedicated himself to helping others and seeking a better world. On his death bed, the Minister, about to reveal his face once more seemed content at first. The Minister states, â€œmy soul hath a patient weariness until the veil be liftedâ€(1288). It seems as though the lifting of the veil is to set Mr. Hooper free to be accepted into heaven. â€œBefore the veil of eternity be lifted, let me cast aside this black veil from your faceâ€ (1288). Then in a sudden turn of events, Mr. Hooper yells out â€œNeverâ€, stopping the Reverend from removing the veil from his face. He sits up and begins:
Why do you tremble at me alone? â€¦Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pityâ€¦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 friendâ€¦when man does not vainly shrink form 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! (1288-89)
The black veil is a symbol, something that Hawthorne uses to stand for the blocked wall between all human souls. Hawthorne is simply suggesting that every person wears his own "black veil". On the other hand, if people are willing to acknowledge the darkness in themselves, there will come a time when everyone shall set aside their veils.