All humans do not know another person's life inclusively. Therefore, one is concealing numerous aspects and conducted actions, which defines his/her individuality, from the environment and the people around him/her. Despite shaking hands, greeting, and initiating a conversation, no one will justly comprehend the true character hiding underneath the bare face of an individual. Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays this concept in his short story, "The Minister's Black Veil", to convey that all humans harbor some sort of "secret sin" within them. This secret sin, which he explains throughout the piece, could be both exorbitant and onerous, forming an isolated and lonely life that one must endure.
A combination of a Puritan setting and an undercurrent of Calvinism woven in, Hawthorne commences the short story with a disturbance in a peaceful town caused by the arrival of the minister, Reverend Hooper. The minister was described as a "a gentlemanly person of about thirty, though still a bachelorâ€¦dressed with clerical neatness, as if a careful wife had starched his band and brushed the weekly dust from his Sunday's garb". Based on this character description, Mr. Hooper could be viewed as a humble and respectful member of the society, undistinguishable from the others. Unfortunately, "there was but one thing remarkable in his appearance...a black veil".
With the introduction of the black veil, which hung over his face, there begins to shift in the piece of work from an accepting tone to a rejecting one. As Mr. Hooper stood facing his congregation with the veil, a woman states, "He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face." The aghast and feared tone of the woman illustrates the shock and trepidation seen in the eyes of the Puritans. From the new implanted impression of the minister, Mr. Hooper begins his downfall into a lonely and segregated lifestyle, aloof from society.
At one point, the annoyance of the black veil, or secret sin, engendered the discontinuity of a once stable and secure relationship. Mr. Hooper's fiancée, Elizabeth, after engulfing the rumors spread about her fiancé, developed a desire for the minister to reveal his face to her at least once. Mr. Hooper responds "â€¦No mortal eye will see it withdrawnâ€¦even you, Elizabethâ€¦" Through the use of explicit diction (even youâ€¦), Mr. Hooper's rejection portrays how much effort one (involuntarily) puts in for the security and safety of the secret sin. With the minister's rejection of Elizabeth's access to his face, Elizabeth rejects him entirely and abandons him, even after he pleaded for her not to desert him. Furthermore, Elizabeth's rejection exemplifies the amount of sacrifices one puts in for the concealment of the secret sin.
The black veil, overall, possesses a symbolic significance, which Hawthorne tries to reveal to his audience. Even though the congregation leaves at a state of "indecorous confusion", Mr. Hooper hints at the veil's meaning as he references to "secret sin" in his sermon. Nonetheless, the author represents the idea of a mask hiding what one hides within him/her, such as his/her innermost feelings and thoughts with the use of this physical material, the veil. At the denouement of the short story, in his deathbed, Mr. Hooper inquires, "Why do you tremble at me alone?...for my black veil?" and dies exclaiming, "I look around me, and lo! On every visage a Black Veil!" This combination of rhetorical questions and profound syntax illustrates how everyone in this Puritan society possesses an indivisible mask hiding their "secret sin" from the public. In others words, Reverend Hooper is a living symbol, representing all the people and the secret sin that they hid within them. Ironically, the Puritans had "felt as if the preacher (Hooper) had crept upon themâ€¦and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought" during this sermon but no one effectively grasp his preaching, even after Hooper clarified. This obscurity and confusion demonstrates how secret sin is concealed deep inside people's mind that even their own consciousness is oblivious to it.
Likewise, previously, at a wedding ceremony, Reverend Hooper, himself, gets a little petrified after he catches a glimpse of him in a wine glass. This scene juxtaposes Hooper's character role in the piece, but it reveals the immense negative impact it will have if a secret sin is exposed overtly. The confusion he possesses over the whereabouts and harm of his sin prompts him to develop a fear towards it, akin to the phrase "fear of the unknown". When one is afraid of his/her own sin, it emphasizes the hazards and dangers it will have when it is divulged to the public.
Nathaniel Hawthorne gains his inspiration for writing this short story from a true event where Joseph Moody, a clergyman, accidently his friend and his face for the rest of his mortal life. Thereafter, Hawthorne highlights the concept of a secret sin located deep within every person's consciousness in his work of literature. Making a vow to God, Reverend Hooper becomes this living icon of the darkness of human nature, representing the "secret sin" that all humans carry in their hearts.