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Character Analysis in The Minister's Black Veil

Rev. Hooper: Reverend Hooper frightens his parishioners by wearing a black veil over his face at all times. Hooper’s veil renders him an outcast and causes his fiancee to break of their engagement. While socially isolated, Rev. Hooper becomes an esteemed Reverend and is held in high regard by his fellow clergymen at his death. Hooper never reveals a specific reason for his black veil. He merely states that he sees everyone on Earth with their own veil and that he will be free from it in Heaven.

Elizabeth: Elizabeth is Rev. Hooper’s fiancee. She begs him to remove the veil, or at least to provide her a reason for his wearing of it. When Hooper refuses to fulfill either request, Elizabeth feels she has no other choice but to break off the engagement. While Elizabeth is never romantically reunited with Hooper, she remains single throughout her life and cares for him on his deathbed.

Character Analysis Examples in The Minister's Black Veil:

The Minister's Black Veil

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"Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he was addressing?..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

The capitalization of “Being” indicates that Hawthorne is alluding to God. The question posed here asks if Reverend Hooper wishes to hide his face from God. This could imply that Hooper has committed a sin and is ashamed to show his face to God.

"catching a glimpse of his figure in the looking-glass..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

This is an indication that even Reverend Hooper, who knows exactly why he put on the veil, cannot help but react fearfully to the sight of himself covered by the veil. Its influence is all-pervasive, affecting both the wearer and those who view it. He offers himself as a sacrifice to exhibit the existence of his sins publicly in order to symbolize his and others' sin.

"though unloved and dimly feared..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

An unintended consequence of Reverend Hooper's veil—an effect he would not have foreseen—is his isolation from the rest of mankind. A question for all readers is, "Did this isolation serve a purpose?"

"Dying sinners cried aloud for Mr. Hooper and would not yield their breath till he appeared..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

The desire for dying sinners to want Reverend Hooper at their bedside indicates that perhaps the veil has accomplished one of its desired effects. The sinners recognize their likeness with Hooper and are drawn to his mysterious veil because they want to see that they are not alone in their sin.

"groping darkly within his own soul..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Hawthorne resolves some of the ambiguity that pervades this story. Reverend Hooper is fighting his own inner demons while ostensibly trying to teach his congregation. If he were to reveal the meaning of the black veil, he would no longer be carrying a hidden burden, thus becoming a martyr for all the sinners in his congregation.

"there was a faithful woman at his pillow who with averted eyes would have covered that aged face which she had last beheld in the comeliness of manhood..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

An unintended casualty of the veil is Reverend Hooper's fiancee, Elizabeth, whose hope for a normal married life is swept away when Hooper refuses to take off his veil. Now that they are both older, she is as devoted to the maintenance of Hooper's veil as he is, even if she doesn't understand its purpose. The breakdown of their relationship symbolizes how hidden sins and secrets can ruin relationships even between the closest of lovers.

"Oh, you know not how lonely I am, and how frightened to be alone behind my black veil..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Hooper makes it clear that he feels the veil has cut him off from the fellowship of others. More importantly, he is as afraid as everyone else. The townspeople believe the Minister has created his own loneliness and fear voluntarily, and they don’t understand that he wears the veil as a symbol for all of their sins.

"He even smiled again—that same sad smile..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Hooper's enigmatic smile, characteristic of his mild personality, becomes a symbol of his detachment from the rest of mankind because no one can understand the smile behind the veil. The smile becomes as mysterious as the veil. Perhaps Hooper allows the veil to cover everything except his smile to add to the mystery, and offer a lighter contrast to the dark veil.

"unappalled by the awe with which the black veil had impressed all besides herself..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Elizabeth, Hooper's fiancee, exhibits the bravery and loyalty that allow her to confront Hooper directly about his reasons for the veil. Hawthorne includes Elizabeth in the story to show how somebody’s secret sins can distance that person, even from a lover.

"His frame shuddered, his lips grew white, he spilt the untasted wine..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

This may indicate that Reverend Hooper's reaction to the veil has become pathological—that is, abnormal. Even though he donned the veil to make a point about secret sins, his point is now secondary to the veil's negative effects, making this a metaphor for how sins can overtake a sinner.

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