Ministers Black Veil Essay, Research Paper
In Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil,” the extent to which the Puritan parson repents for his sin is a direct critique of the Puritan religion by Hawthorne. Through his writing, Hawthorne portrays a belief that the Puritan religion is one of an excessive and almost absurd nature. Although all religions have their seemingly irrational and superfluous rituals, the dogma of the seventeenth century Puritan religion was rigid and sometimes outright bizarre. The church set out to purify religion through distilling the doctrine and worship into its simplest form. The result was a group known, above anything else, for their devotion to prayer and the lord. Should one choose a path other than the one set forth for them it would mean rejection and dismissal from society.
The Puritans were raised to live proper and almost perfect lives, to drift meant disgrace and shame among ones peers. Hawthorne uses this idea to create and environment of severe repentance by a figurehead of the Puritan church. He is so ashamed of his “hidden sin” that he takes it upon himself to repent, thus covering his face for the remainder of his time on the earth, hiding his face from even the woman he loves. “This veil is a type and a symbol, and I am bound to wear it ever, both in light and darkness, in solitude and before the gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar friends.” Mr. Hopper’s sin is never fully divulged to the reader although it is implied that he had an illicit relationship with a young women of the congregation. Though the congregation never learned of his misdeed, he was so overcome by the error of his ways that he hid himself from society as an example to the community and punishment for himself. In this action, Hawthorne demonstrates how the people of the church are brainwashed to a degree of such consequence that they are to be something more than human. Basic human nature is dismissed in the church as though it is a handicap or weakness, which in turn leads to the devil himself. Ones faults are to be controlled and subdued so radically that they may manifest themselves in extraordinary and drastic measures. Mr. Hopper’s veil is a manifestation of the beliefs impressed into his conscience by the dogma of his religion, perpetuated by his high place in his society. Hawthorne views this as overbearing and unattainable expectation. Created with complex desires and natural needs, humans are sometimes overrun by their emotions and primal instincts, not because they willingly opt to do bad, but rater for they are encoded to chose certain actions. However, this is not to say that humans lack free will and the ability to control their actions. Never the less, humans do stray from what is right and should be forgiven.
The predisposition to constantly live in the image of the lord does not allow humans to have differences and creates an environment in which to be different is to be sinful. The veil the minister wears is a symbol of the masks that all the members of society “wear.” “Then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! On every visage a Black Veil.” As the people and his religion condemned him, he in turn condemns them upon his deathbed. He accuses them of all disguising their true selves and presenting a facade congruous with the expectations of culture. By violating the code of beliefs, Hopper leaves his faults exposed to society and rather than be cast out, he covers them with a black veil. Through his actions, he lost his unseen mask and thus compensates for his loss with an actual and very real symbol. The final scene in the story is in fact Hawthorne spreading his view through the use of his protagonist. He believes the Puritans had to work so hard to be “pure” that they in fact became more ambiguous and lost as a group. “But the strangest part of the affair is the effect of this vagary, even on a sober-minded man like myself. The black veil, thought it covers only our pastor’s face, throws its influence over the whole person, and makes him ghostlike from head to foot.” Hawthorne uses this as a metaphor for all Puritans. Their facades make them empty and transparent as though they were ghosts.
Due to the arrangement of society, the stir caused by the parson donning a veil affected the whole community as though it were a monstrous natural disaster. The community was abuzz, though no one other than his wife Elizabeth questioned the reason for the dark mask. Prior to his wearing the crepe cover, the town at large was bright and seemingly cheerful. “The old people of the village came stopping along the street. Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait, in the conscious dignity of their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked alongside the pretty maidens, and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on the weekdays.” Following the first sermon in which he wore the veil, Hawthorne describes the town as amazed, shocked, and stunned. No one would even walk with the poor pastor as he departed the church, nor was he invited to Sunday dinner, as was the typical protocol. Later we are told “children fled from his approach, breaking up their merriest sports, while his melancholy figure was yet afar off.” In addition “a preternatural horror was interwoven with the threads of the black crepe.” The people were so rigid and stuck with their place in society that rather than confront the figurehead of their church the make him a wicked person behind his back.
In the short story, Hawthorne makes reference to more than one supernatural account that the people of the town deem to be true. Upon the death of one maiden of the community, Hopper attends her funeral to pray for the deceased. As he kneeled over her sleeping body, his veil hung from his face and had she been able to open her eyes she would have seen the clergyman’s face. “At the instant when the clergyman’s features were disclosed, the corpse had slightly shuttered, rustling the shroud and muslin cap, though the countenance retained the composure of death.” It was thought the horrid sight of the parson and his veil caused a corpse to shutter. Hawthorne exemplifies their ridiculous thought that the mere sight of him may “shake the dead.” Hawthorne also describes the sensation that seemed to permeate from the blackness: “there rolled a cloud into the sunshine, an ambiguity of sin or sorrow, which enveloped the poor minister, so that love or sympathy could never reach him. It was said that ghost and fiend consorted with him there?he walked continually in it’s shadow, groping darkly within his own soul, or gazing through a medium that saddened the whole world. Even the lawless wind?respected his dreadful secret and never blew aside the veil.” The premise that ghosts may assemble with him under to the veil is ridiculous, as is the belief that the free wind respected his secret enough never to blow the veil from in front of his face. That the Puritans may believe the wind cared enough to keep from moving the veil exemplified their over the top view of their religion and the lord as pinnacle.
Hawthorne depicts the Puritans as an over zealous and supercilious people of expectations that are not human. They hold themselves to a standard that makes them as though they were players upon a stage, always acting a part to satisfy their dogmatic views. The homogeneity of the group does not lend itself to acceptance of failure or fault, especially by the epitome of their church. The minister’s veil was a blemish on the purity and sanctuary of the church, although no one knew the reason for it. Hawthorne sees the Puritans as people of a quixotic nature; they seek to achieve worldly perfection while they are imperfect themselves.