A commonly used phrase reads “We are very good lawyers for our own mistakes, but very good judges for the mistakes of others. ” In “The Ministers Black Veil,” Nathanial Hawthorne exposes a theme of revealed sin and underlying guilt. Throughout the story, the author creates this idea that people spend a lot of their time judging others by their actions rather than by their own. Reverend Hooper chooses to never remove the black veil. It conveys this feeling of secret sin and is only confirmed when at his deathbed, he says that everyone has a secret sin that is hidden from all others.
There are several settings in this story that show what the black veil symbolizes. The first setting of the story begins at the church where Hooper wears the black veil symbolizing sin. It is evident during Hooper’s Sermon that he is covering up one of his sins. He speaks about the subject of sin and how each person needs to be aware of their own personal sins. In the reading, it says “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 this awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought” (Hawthorne, 46).
It was as if the congregation could feel that Hooper was seeing their sins during the speech. Not only did he refer to the sins of those in the room, but he was wearing the black veil over his face. If Hooper had not been wearing the black veil, it would not have been as weird to the people. Surprisingly, the speech was put together quite well but his odd and creepy appearance kept him separated from the reality of those around him. No one had the desire to talk to him.
They spent a lot of their time trying to figure out why he would wear a black veil to church and give such a disturbing essage. His black veil during a church talk about sin only manifests that his veil represents sin. It’s important to consider that the townspeople believe that a person’s actions will determine where they go after this life. People often went to church to feel happy and to be spiritual, but instead they felt as though they were being shamed for their mistakes. The only reason that the people could feel that way is because Hooper is wearing a Black veil to cover up his own mistakes.
Before he spoke, they already assumed and felt something dark and different about him. It wasn’t the same Hooper they remembered him as. He has been well known among the people. For him to go to church with a black veil on his face is a huge manifestation of a type of guilt that he is going through and the veil is a testimony of how he feels. The place at the funeral shows that the veil symbolizes sin. During Hooper’s time at the funeral, he gave a sermon saying that the young women is in a better place.
The narrator said “The people trembled, though they but darkly understood him when he prayed that they, and himself, and all of mortal race, might be ready, as he trusted this young maiden had been, for the dreadful hour that should snatch the veil from their faces” (47). The people feel dark after what Hooper had said; that he hopes for all people to be ready for the day that they die. This is the second time that he spoke and still managed to deliver an eerie sermon. The people feel that he may be wearing the veil to be able to go to Heaven like the young girl did.
This is another reason he is wearing the black veil, to be ready for that day. It gives the feeling that the black veil is his way to get to Heaven. If wearing the veil is going to help him get to Heaven, then the veil is a representation of something bad that he has done and it is going to help him get to Heaven if he sacrifices his time and efforts into wearing the black veil. At this point in the story he has already confronted groups of people in two different settings and both times he has given a speech about sin and heaven. It is as if he is trying to deliver a message without xplaining his reasoning behind his wearing of the black veil.
The setting at the wedding shows that the black veil symbolizes sin. The narrator explains “At that instant, catching a glimpse of his figure in the looking-glass, the black veil involved his own spirit in the horror with which it overwhelmed all others. His frame shuddered, his lips grew white, he spilt to untasted wine upon the carpet, and rushed forth into the darkness. For the earth, too, had on her black veil” (48). After the couple got married, Hooper takes a glass of wine to celebrate; he notices his black veil in the mirror and runs out because he is frightened.
Hooper noticing his veil in the mirror is strange. It was like he forgot that it was there. It’s as if it was a reminder of this secret and guilty sin that he is hiding. In the last sentence, it says that the earth is wearing the black veil as well. If the earth is wearing a black veil, that means that the earth is covered in sin itself. Hooper was known to love and enjoy weddings. It’s surprising that he would still show up to something so happy and cheerful with the black veil hanging over his face. At this point it looks like Hooper isn’t going to be taking his veil off anytime soon.
The setting where Hooper and his Fiance talk, symbolizes the black veil as sin. Elisabeth, Hooper’s fiance doesn’t think it is too big of a deal of what he is doing and she feels as though she can convince him to remove the veil. After she asks him to remove it, he responds “No mortal eye will see it withdrawn. This dismal shade must separate me from the world: even you, Elizabeth, can never come behind it! ” (50) When she asked him to remove the veil, he didn’t even hesitate. It was in his nature to defend himself and prove that he is going to make this huge sacrifice and never remove the black veil.
He still cared for her because he wanted her to stay, but he somehow couldn’t let her get in the way of him removing the black veil. At this point it is clear he had a purpose in what he was doing. He was confident to never allow someone to provoke the removal of the veil. She asked him to remove the veil or she wouldn’t marry him and because he couldn’t do it she knew that the veil then meant something more than she thought. Even though Hooper wanted her to stay, she felt that he was hiding a sin from her and she couldn’t live with that idea in mind.
No one should have to worry about their spouse wearing a black veil over their face. He continued to refuse even after asking him to remove it several times. If he couldn’t remove the veil for someone he supposedly cared so much about, this must be something very important to him. The veil must represent something that he feels so guilty for, that he can’t even remove it for her. He even says himself that if he did cover it for secret sin, why wouldn’t someone else do that same? “… if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same? ” (50).
She leaves him and Hooper knows a lonely life is coming his way. After Hooper’s fiance leaves him, he smiles sadly often and no one dares to question him. The people can’t help but judge him for wearing it for a lot of his life time and allowing himself to be lonely. The last setting at Hooper’s deathbed, symbolized the black veil as sin. Right before he dies, Reverend Clark comes to him and asks what sin he did commit. Hooper responded with a question asking “Why do you tremble at me alone. ” (55). He aims his question towards the townspeople because they spent more of their time judging him than judging themselves.
Most the townspeople spend so much of their lives focused on the possible sin of Hooper but not their own. Throughout the story, Hooper had only been asked twice about why he wore the black veil. The people are so consumed with someone else’s life because they are being judgmental. People tend to judge others to help them feel better about their personal lives. The black veil symbolizes sin and how wearing the black veil only is a physical representation of what is really on the inside. In Hooper’s mind, everyone is wearing a black veil.
Whether you see it or you don’t. The author presents this theme of guilt and sin to help readers see how consumed people can become in the mistakes of others. This story teaches us that there is sin in everyone and a lot of people spend their lives judging others based on things that they hear and see, rather than focusing on themselves. He wrote this story with moral intent. The reason behind the wearing of the black veil is an obvious symbol of sin but was a constant mystery until the end where Hawthorn shows that humanity is evil at heart.