Internal Conflict in The Minister’s Black Veil
Facing Inner Demons
“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is about an old minister who through his own inner demons hopes to teach his community how to live with theirs. The story begins with Mr. Hooper, the church’s minister, entering service with a mysterious black veil over his face, causing quite a stir among his parishioners. Mr. Hooper delivers a sermon on secret sin and the things people hide in their hearts, which causes the congregation to wonder what secret sin the minister’s black veil represented. Later on the Minister presents a funeral sermon and a wedding while wearing the veil, much to the dismay and discomfort of the bride. During these few hours no one dared to ask the minister to remove the veil or explain its presence except for his fiancée. When Mr. Hooper’s fiancée asks why he wears the veil he claims it is a sign of his sorrows and refuses to remove it, leading to her leaving him. After the ministers fiancée left him many people did not ask about the veil anymore. Mr. Hooper has gradually become a highly respected minister in New England, notwithstanding the black barrier. On the Ministers deathbed Reverend Clark tries to persuade him to remove the veil. His reply: “Why do you tremble at me alone? Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and on every visage a Black Veil!” (Hawthorne 2275) In the end the minister is buried, wearing the veil. Robert Louis Stevenson said “the cruelest lies are often told in silence.” Character, setting and internal conflict reveal that the Minister’s secret sin is adultery.
First, character reveals that the minister’s secret sin is adultery. When Reverend Hooper’s fiancée ask him why he chooses to wear the black veil he fails to give an answer. His refusal to provide an explanation reveals that his character is secretive. Knowing that Mr. Hooper is a person that keeps secrets, allows one to assume that he is hiding his infidelity from his fiancée. Furthermore, this maintains the idea of the minister’s possible infidelity. When Mr. Hooper is talking to his fiancée he tells her so far as his vow may suffer him he must wear his black veil. Vows are written promises of loyalty people say to their fiancée’s before marriage. If Mr. Hooper’s vows are causing him to suffer, this uncovers the characters discontent with his soon to be marriage. For the reason that Mr. Hooper is unhappy with his current engagement, an assumption can be made that he chose to find happiness in someone else, strengthening the notion of his unfaithfulness. Before Mr. Hooper’s death a reference is made regarding the faint smile seen on his face, revealing that his character was happy to die. Seeing that the minister was happy to die, means he had a reason to not want to live. Assuming the minister did in fact commit adultery, creates the presumption that his actions caused him to feel guilty. Making it is safe to assume that the minister was happy when he died because he was being relieved of the guilt of his sins, sustaining the belief that Minister Hooper engaged in an extramarital relationship.
Second setting reveals that the Ministers secret sin is adultery. The first place Mr. Hooper is introduced is on the porch of the Milford meeting house. Milford is a town located in Worcester County, Massachusetts, a state that was founded by the puritans. The Puritans were a religious minority group who migrated to the New World seeking to create a model religious community. Since the church where the minister preaches is in Massachusetts, an assumption can be made that it is a Puritan Church. One of the Puritans most frowned upon sins is adultery. If the church is Puritan the setting reveals that if the minister did in fact commit adultery the community would not respect him. This lack of respect would give him a reason to feel ashamed, causing him to wear the black veil, preserving the impression of his indiscretions. On the header of the second page it states this account occurs in the early nineteenth century between 1860 and 1865. During this time in Massachusetts not only was adultery frowned upon it was illegal and penalized by death. These details of the setting reveals that if Mr. Hooper told anyone about his secret sin he would be put to trial by death. Mr. Hooper, empowered by this knowledge, chose to prove a point to the public by wearing his black veil instead of accepting his fate, confirming the sense of an adulterous secret. In the chamber where the minister lies awaiting his death the room is lit by shaded candlelight. Candlelight represents purification and cleansing. Since the minister’s death chamber is completely lit by candlelight symbolically it has a setting of purification. Based on the staging of the room a conclusion can be made that the minister’s choice to die in this setting was to purify him of his infidelity before his death, which keeps consistent with the narrative of his affair.
Lastly conflict reveals that the ministers secret sin is adultery. After Mr. Hooper performs the wedding ceremony he gives a toast wishing happiness to the new married couple. During this toast Mr. Hooper catches a glimpse of his reflection in his wine glass causing him to spit out his drink and disappear into the darkness. Mr. Hooper’s reaction to his reflection reveals an internal conflict towards his appearance, mainly the black veil on his face. Given that Mr. Hooper spit out his water after seeing the black veil, it is safe to assume that he is disgusted by the sight of the mask because it is a reminder of his secret sin. Being a minister of a church where adultery is an unforgivable sin, a conclusion can be made that his actions caused him to constantly bear a feeling of disgust, demonstrating evidence that supports the claim that he committed adultery. When Mr. Hooper is talking to his fiancée about why he wears the black veil he says, “I, perhaps, like most other mortals, have sorrows dark enough to be typified by a black veil.”(Hawthorne 2272) Hooper’s response to his fiancée’s question reveals another internal conflict within him, his sorrow. Since the minister says his sorrows are dark enough to be covered by a black veil, there is an implication that this agony is caused by the guilt of his disloyalty to his mate. Hopper’s obvious remorse continues to paint an image of his cheating. After one of Mr. Hooper’s sermons the physician of the village said, “the black veil, though it cover only our pastor’s face, it throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him ghost like from head to foot.” (Hawthorne 2269) The physician’s observation reveals that Mr. Hooper feels dead inside confirming the concept of his internal conflict. The black veil, a representation of his secret sin, makes him ghost like to the townspeople. If the minister truly commited adultery, then the shame of his wrongdoing caused him to feel dead inside, further upholding the adulterous impression.
On August 2, 2012 in Mali a group of Islamists forced a man and a woman into a hole and stoned them to death for committing adultery. The man and the woman were both married and even though the woman had two small children she was still put to death.The Islamists aggression towards those two natives shows that some people still strongly stand against adultery. If people still murder for adultery now knowing its illegal imagine the fear the minister had after committing an infidelity when murder was legal. This fear eventually lead to the minister hiding his sin behind a veil instead of being honest in order to save his life.
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