Symbols in The Minister's Black Veil

The Minister's Black Veil 4
"in solitude and before the gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar friends..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Readers may wonder exactly what the veil symbolizes. The following statement makes it seem as though the veil is a personal symbol of a secret sin, indicated by the proclamation that he must wear it “in solitude and before the gaze of multitudes.”

"the faint, sad smile..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Reverend Hooper's sad smile, so often mentioned in the story, may indicate his sorrowful recognition that he has failed to make clear to his congregation what the veil represents. If he had told the townspeople that he wore the veil as a symbol for hidden sins, the purpose would have been annulled by the proclamation. The smile, then, is directed at himself for having lost an opportunity to make himself understood.

"Yea," said he, in faint accents; "my soul hath a patient weariness until that veil be lifted...."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

This line supports the idea that the veil represents one of Hooper’s personal sins. If the burden of his sins were lifted then he would be free to lift his veil. Although the story never directly implies one interpretation of the symbolism of the black veil, it may be argued that either of the two interpretations are realistically the same. If the veil represents one of Hooper’s sins, then the townspeople’s fixation on his sin simply indicates that they want to distract themselves from their own hidden sins.

"I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a black veil!..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Reverend Hooper's dying comment is perhaps the closest he comes to explaining the meaning of the veil. Though we never know for certain whether the veil is a symbol for all the hidden sins of humankind or one specific sin of which he does not want to outright confess, the veil can come forth to mean both in these last words, suggesting all people have hidden sins they wish not to explain.