Hawthorne Hooper Suddenly Dons a Mysterious Black Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


Hooper suddenly dons a mysterious black veil "which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things," (Hawthorne). This "gloomy" veil is the central symbol of Hawthorne's short story, "The Minister's Black Veil." As with other Hawthorne stories, "The Minister's Black Veil" offers a poignant critique against hyper-religiosity in ultra-Puritan New England. Hawthorne shows that a Christian obsession with the theme of sin has been taken to an extreme, evident in Hooper's mentally deranged methodology. By wearing the veil continuously in her personal and public affairs, Hooper alienates himself from those who care about him, including the community members who used to count on him. On the other hand, guilt-ridden members of the community view Hooper's veil as a sign that the minister is ultra-pious and therefore capable of leading them to salvation. The overall effect is ironic, given that the veil does nothing to make Hooper closer to God. Hawthorne's critique of Christianity is overt but oblique, as there is a great deal of ambiguity to the nature of the veil itself. "The Minister's Black Veil" is a tantalizing tale laden with symbolism, drawing attention to the paradox of alienation in a religious community.

The community reacts to Reverent Hooper with shock, dismay, and scorn right from the start of the story, which establishes the theme of alienation and psychological illness. "He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face," one member of the community states (Hawthorne). Citizen Goodman Gray cries, "Our parson has gone mad!" (Hawthorne). Hooper's character lends itself to rich psychological analysis. The reverend's character is established, even prior to his donning the veil. He "had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: he strove to win his people heavenward by mild, persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither by the thunders of the Word," (Hawthorne). It would seem that Hooper was a depressed man, with a flattened affect that belied his calling to the pulpit. As Hooper grew more and more obsessed with sin, the veil became an outward expression of his growing insanity. Were Hawthorne to have written "The Minister's Veil" in light of psychological analysis, Hooper could easily be diagnosed using the DSM-IV. Hooper has recently been engaged, which might have precipitated his guilt-ridden temperament and obsession with sin. Others around Hooper recognize his insanity instantly, as he is called "strange," as well as "mad," and one person cries out, "Something must surely be amiss with Mr. Hooper's intellects," (Hawthorne).

Whereas some have suggested that the townsfolk are the ones who do not appreciate Hooper's piety, "The Minister's Black Veil" must be read in context and alongside Hawthorne's canon of similar short stories (Colacurcio). Then it becomes clear that Hawthorne is not suggesting that the townsfolk are sinful people that underappreciate their pious reverend. Quite the contrary, the townsfolk are the sane ones here, pointing out that the black veil is an obstruction of Hooper's humanity. Hooper's humanity is his sin; therefore, Christian guilt is equated with self-hatred, and self-loathing: precisely the elements that cause Reverend Hooper to become depressed, isolate himself from the community, and break off his engagement. Based on his behaviors alone -- the wearing of the veil, the isolation from those who love him, and his flattened affect -- Hooper at the very least suffers from major depressive disorder. Like Hawthorne's other stories that address the theme of puritan religiosity and conservative New England communities, "The Minister's Black Veil" would be sympathetic to Hooper in the sense that he is a product of the dysfunctional puritan mindset.

Newberry points out that Hawthorne wrote in the midst of the Great Awakening: a period of frightful evangelicalism that spread like wildfire and brimstone through the United States. A movement characterized by guilt-driven sermons, the parson (later Reverend) Hooper symbolizes and epitomizes everything that is dark and disturbing about the movement. In fact, the…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Carnochan, W.B. "The Minister's Black Veil": Symbol, Meaning, and the Context of Hawthorne's Art." Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Vol. 24, No. 2 (Sep., 1969), pp. 182-192

Colacurcio, Michael J. "Parson Hooper's Power of Blackness: Sin and Self in "The Minister's Black Veil" Prospects. Vol. 5. Oct 1980.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Minister's Black Veil." Retrieved online: http://www.eldritchpress.org/nh/mbv.html

Newberry, Frederick. "The Biblical Veil: Sources and Typology in Hawthorne's 'The Minister's Black Veil,'" Texas Studies in Literature and Language. Vol. 31, No. 2, Nineteenth-Century Fiction (SUMMER 1989), pp. 169-195

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