In The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the reader is introduced to a pleasant scene in Milford, a small Puritan town where men, women, and children mill about enjoying the prospect of another Sunday. This peace is interrupted by the arrival of Reverend Hooper who is described, in one of theimportant quotes from “The Minister’s Black Veil” as being “a gentlemanly person of about thirty, though still a bachelor…dressed with clerical neatness, as if a careful wife had starched his band and brushed the weekly dust from his Sunday’s garb” (1253).
What is most notable about this otherwise plain and unassuming man, however, is that he is now suddenly and inexplicably wearing a black veil that hangs from his forehead and covers his eyes and nose. All that can be seen is his mouth and the veil moves eerily as his breath disturbs it. The people of the town cannot hide their shock and many of them are immediately frightened. One old woman says, “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face” (1253) and others generally agree that the Reverend has taken on quite a disturbing appearance, even though his polite and gracious behavior is the same as it was before donning the veil.
The Reverend’s preaching style, much like his appearance before taking up the veil, is quite unremarkable. The narrator of The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne says, “he had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: he strove to win his people heavenward by mild persuasive influence rather than to drive them thither” (1254) but the addition of the veil has made his preaching far more interesting. His listeners pay him rapt attention and feel as though the veil lends a sanctity and foreboding that his normal appearance did not invoke.
At this point in the plot of “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, there is a definite turn in the way the people of the town perceive their minister. After the service, everyone stares at him and rumors begin to fly, especially since his sermon had to do with the notion of secret sin. No one can comprehend the minister’s black veil and they are even more disturbed by the fact that he does not seem to be acting out of the ordinary in the least. Everyone seems to agree that the minister’s black veil is sinister and clouds the otherwise pleasant visage of the familiar minister.
After the service, Reverend Hooper is called upon to officiate over the funeral of a young woman. His appearance disturbs all who are present and as he leans over the girl, “A person who watched the interview between the dead and living scrupled not to affirm that, at the instant when the clergyman’s features were disclosed [as he leaned over her and the veil moved] the corpse had slightly shuddered, rustling the shroud” (1255). Although the narrator of “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne tells us that this was the observation of only one “superstitious” old woman, the rumor pervades the town and envelops Reverend Hooper in even more mystery. One of the people in the funeral procession swore, “the minister and maiden’s spirit were walking hand in hand” (1255). Later in the same evening, Reverend Hooper marries two popular and good-looking people from the town but his appearance is so disquieting that even the joyous occasion is marked with tension. Some of the onlookers associate the beautiful bride with the corpse from earlier in the day and no one feels comfortable allowing the veiled minister to officiate over such an occasion. Reverend Hooper even startles himself when he lifts the wine glass and sees his frightful reflection. This causes him to leave the wedding and dash away from the church.
After the events of this Sunday, the townspeople become more disturbed by the veil and resolve to confront Reverend Hooper about it. Strangely, even though he has always been easy to talk to, no one is able to go up and ask him about it personally. A small group is formed to go to him but it is dissolved when they find they cannot face him while his face is covered. The only person who does not shun him is his fiancée, Elizabeth. Although she seems accepting of her husband-to-be, she worries about some of the rumors and wishes to make sure Hooper is mentally stable. She tries to find out what is behind the sudden appearance of the veil but his answer does not satisfy her. Although he begs her not leave him in his loneliness, he tells her that he cannot remove the veil for the rest of his mortal life and in another one of the important quotes from “The Minister’s Black Veil” “There is an hour to come…when all of us shall cast aside our veils” (1257). She does not understand his reasoning and pleads with him to change his mind. Finally, however, she says that she cannot live a life with him, especially since he will not make this sacrifice and be honest with her. After this time, the Reverend is completely alone. He is a pariah in his own community although people still call upon his services as a clergyman. He is seen as solemn but still very devoted to God; “in this manner Mr. Hooper spent a long life, irreproachable in outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicions; kind and loving, though unloved, and dimly feared; a man apart from men…” (1259).
His position in the community does not change, even throughout his long life. The reader is aware that a great deal of time has passed and soon he is at his deathbed. Elizabeth is present and helps to nurse him and Reverend Clark, who is the minister of Westbury prays at Hooper’s bedside. Just before Hooper expires, Clark asks him why he does not finally remove the veil and allow himself to be seen. Without a definite answer from Hooper, the minister goes to remove the veil but suddenly Father Hooper grabs the veil and tenaciously clings to it, pulling it back over his face. The minister of Westbury is stunned and says, “Dark old man! With what horrible crime upon your soul are you now passing to the judgment?” (1261). He does not give an answer about his own sin or past but merely says to all present how ill he has been treated simply because of his choice to wear the veil. He tells them they should not have trembled at him but at each other. He says he looks around him and “lo! On every visage a black veil” (1261) which indicates that everyone is harboring secret sin. With this, he dies and they allow him to be buried with the veil covering his face. The narrator ends with the chilling image that Hooper’s face “moldered beneath the black veil!” (1261).