Like the people in town, the reader is left somewhat in the dark as to the reasons for Hooper’s choice of the black veil. It is clear that he is not mentally disturbed as he continues behaving normally so it seems that the only other option is that he is either in mourning or is hiding something. The numerous references to secret sin (a common theme in works by Nathaniel Hawthorne) make it more likely that this is the cause but there are never any clues as to what his sin might have been.
Academia has offered many interpretations of “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and its themes and meanings. Some scholars have suggested that Hooper did something unspeakable with the corpse of the woman for whom the funeral was for and others have suggested that he was simply trying to prove a point about inherent or original sin. This is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most contentious work and the last hundred years have produced a wide body of scholarship aimed at making sense of it. It is suggested that if you are writing a paper, you take a look at the outside sources listed below to get an idea of the many theories that are out there.
One of the first themes in The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne that readers are likely to recognize is the reaction of the townspeople to change, especially when a change is associated with their religion or religious figures. This is clearly not an accepting community and it is worth thinking critically about the way the whole community comes together to shun him, especially if you are considering this text in light of Hawthorne’s most famous work, The Scarlet Letter. The veil makes the Reverend look dark and gloomy and instantly, even before one day is through the people in town are witnessing supernatural events.
It seems there is something to said about the group mentality of Puritans and their quick tendencies toward superstition. Elizabeth is the only exception to this reaction but even she cannot take it and chooses not to marry her betrothed. Part of this is due to the wild rumors that are circulating and it should be noted that this happens right away. This tendency for the Puritan community to begin instantly judging and wagging tongues is part of what Hooper is referring to at the end of the story when he suggests that everyone is wearing a veil. He is saying that none of them are free from sin, the only difference between Hooper and them is that he recognizes his sin instead of acts as though he is without it.
It must be understood that this is a text written about the Puritan period during which the general feeling was that everyone was born with original or inherent sin. All people were guilt in the eyes of God and all that one could do was work hard and remain apart from it. Obviously, sin is a major theme here as it is in Hawthorne’s other works although it is more ambiguous. Unlike in The Scarlet Letter, the reader has no idea whether or not Hooper is guilty of some awful sin. This forces readers to think about the other possible reasons the Reverend might be donning the veil.
Although there are clues, they are all contradictory. Furthermore, the fact that the story ends with a note about a real minister who took on a veil after accidentally killing his friend lends credence to the idea that the minister really did do something worthy of his self-punishment and hiding away until after death. Again, nothing is clear and the best the reader or student of this text can do it find a solid thesis statement and stick with it. It would be just as supportable by the text to say that the minister was punishing himself for his secret sin as it would be to suggest the opposite and remember that there are really no wrong answers when it comes to this story as long as you can use quotes to support what you say.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Nathaniel Hawthorne : An Overview of the Author and Thematic Analysis of Works • Comparison of “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Hawthorne • Analysis and Plot Summary of “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathnaiel Hawthorne • Full Plot Summary and Analysis of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne • Allegory in The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne : The Effects of Sin on the Mind, Body, and Soul • Puritan Influences on Modern American Culture and Thought • Analysis and Plot Summary of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne