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Symbols in The Minister's Black Veil

Symbols Examples in The Minister's Black Veil:

The Minister's Black Veil

15

"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 explain.

""I had a fancy," replied she, "that the minister and the maiden's spirit were walking hand in hand."..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

This observation fuels some of the congregation's belief that Reverend Hooper's veil symbolizes a specific act of sin—a relationship with the maiden whose funeral he is attending. The sight of Hooper walking with the dead maiden also establishes a supernatural element, an aspect of the Gothic sub-genre that Hawthorne routinely incorporates in his works.

"the dreadful hour that should snatch the veil from their faces..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

This is the second explicit reference to the veil’s meaning: it is a symbol of sin that can be relinquished at the end of one’s life. However, as with the sermon at the beginning of the story, the congregation cannot quite make the connection between the symbol and its meaning.

"it threw its obscurity between him and the holy page..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

An important theme in this story is the effect of the veil not only on Reverend Hooper's congregation but on Reverend Hooper himself. In this context, since the veil is potentially symbolic of hidden sin, it separates Hooper from the holiness of the scripture.

"a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Just as the veil darkens the congregation's view of Reverend Hooper, the veil also darkens Hooper's view of the world around him both literally and figuratively. The “darkened aspect” that the veil gives him symbolizes a gloomy and sin-ridden view of the world.

"Children with bright faces..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Note the images of light throughout this paragraph and how they change immediately after Reverend Hooper appears in his veil. Light and dark frequently contrast with one another in the narrative, creating a symbolic conflict between good and evil.

"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. The breakdown of this relationship symbolizes how hidden sins and secrets can ruin relationships even between the closest of lovers.

"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.

"the corpse had slightly shuddered..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

This and the later image of Reverend Hooper and the dead woman walking together lead some of the congregation to believe Hooper wears the veil to symbolize his sinful affair with the woman. However, without direct indication of the sin, readers can still interpret the veil to be a representation of all the hidden sins of the community.

"It was now an appropriate emblem..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

In other words, the solemnity of the funeral makes the veil acceptable. Perhaps this suggests that the veil symbolizes an enduring presence of death as well as darkness because it hides the light of the minister’s face.

"and her death-like paleness caused a whisper that the maiden who had been buried a few hours before was come from her grave to be married..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Hawthorne switches the joy of marriage to the sadness of a funeral in this scene—the bride and the dead young woman of the earlier funeral have exchanged places. Hawthorne does this to contrast not only light with darkness but also beginnings with ends.

"A sad smile..."   (The Minister's Black Veil)

Hooper's "sad smile" becomes a symbol of his realization that no one seems to understand the veil's purpose. The “sad smile” symbolizes the facade people put on when their hearts are burdened by a darkness, but they chose to hide their woes from the world.

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