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Symbolism in "The Ministers Black Veil"

Symbolism in "The Ministers Black Veil"

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Published by Oliver Curtis
Analysis of Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"
Analysis of Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"

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Published by: Oliver Curtis on Mar 05, 2012
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11/14/2013

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Oliver Curtis2/24/12English III HonorsSymbolism in “The Minister’s Black Veil”How can a single piece of cloth influence and change the expanse of a man’slife? “The Minister’s Black Veil”, a short story that is a perfect representation of this, waswritten by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is primarily about a minister who dons a black veil,causing conflict with those around him. Symbolism plays the major role in the storydevelopment of “The Minister’s Black Veil, influencing the other elements in the storyand enhancing the message being expressed.In “The Minister’s Black Veil”, symbolism is progressively involved in theprovocation of conflict. All the problem that occur in the story are a direct result of themain character, Parson Hooper, donning the veil. For example, Hooper’s fiancee askshim to lift the veil but once; however, he refuses, causing her to leave him. This showshow the veil is directly to blame for causing friction even between Hooper and hisclosest companion. While external conflict is more widespread in “The Minister’s BlackVeil”, symbolism also influences internal conflict. Hooper said, “[He] perhaps, like other mortals, [has] sorrows enough to be typified by a black veil” (Hawthorne 307). Hooper’scontinued use of the veil to represent his sorrows is an obvious sign that he is strugglingwith internal conflict, in the form of guilt from past sins. The overall enmity of thepopulace towards Hooper and his guilty conscience for past misdeeds are essentiallythe basis of his problems, but he still wears it in order to express his idea.
 
The presence of symbolism also aides in the conveyance of the recurring themein the story: hidden sin. It is this very point that Hooper is trying to make when he firstwears the veil. While on his death-bed, Hooper remarks that he should only be deemeda monster for wearing the veil only when man no longer hides his sin. Through thisstatement, he finally reveals the meaning of the cloth he wears; it represents those evildeeds men have hidden deep inside, away from the visible world. Supporting this,Sarah Wright remarks, “The veil...becomes an emblem of the passion for concealmentthat afflicts all humans to a greater or lesser degree” (Wright 167). With his last spokenwords, Hooper emphasises that everyone has a form of secret sin. He says, “[He looks]around [him] and lo! on every visage a black veil” (Hawthorne 307). This was Hooper’slegacy, to prove that even though they do not wear a black veil, everyone has doneevils of the darkest nature, known only by God and themselves. The symbol of his veil isthe focal point of the theme and plays a part in contributing to the Puritan setting.Through the use of symbols, Hawthorne exhibits the Puritan attitude towardchange in his story. At this period in time, those belonging to the Puritan religion werenot exactly prone to abandoning tradition. An old woman in the story states, “He haschanged himself into something awful, only by hiding his face” (Hawthorne 300). Her statement is a perfect example of how behaving in an even slightly unorthodox manner was heavily frowned upon by the Puritans. At one point in the story, the narrator reflectsthat, out of all the busybodies and impertinent people, no one dared ask Hooper abouthis veil. The narrators description of the people’s judgemental nature, especiallytowards the veil, strengthens the Puritan atmosphere and contributes to the setting.
 
The initial effect of the veil on the congregation in the story exemplifies their stereotypical Puritan adversity towards deviation from the norm.In retrospect, Symbolism has a profound level of influence on Hawthorne’s “TheMinster’s Black Veil”. It instigates conflict, helps to relate the theme of the story, andadds to the Puritan setting. It is from works like this one that the importance of symbolism in literature can be quantified.

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