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Solitude/Isolation in “The Minister’s Black Veil” and Hawthorne’s Life

Solitude/Isolation in “The Minister’s Black Veil” and Hawthorne’s Life

In the Nathaniel Hawthorne tale, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” we see and feel the solitude/isolation of the minister, Reverend Mr. Hooper. Is this solitude not a reflection of the very life of the author?

According to A.N. Kaul in his Introduction to Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, the themes of isolation and alienation were ones which Hawthorne was “deeply preoccupied with” in his writings (2).

At the outset of the tale, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” the sexton is tolling the church bell and simultaneously watching Mr. Hooper’s door, when suddenly he says, “But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?” The surprise which the sexton displayed is repeated in the astonishment of the onlookers: “With one accord they started, expressing more wonder. . .” The reason is this: “Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath” is a black veil. The 30 year old, unmarried parson receives a variety of reactions from his congregation:

“I can’t really feel as if good Mr. Hooper’s face was behind that piece of crape”

“He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face”

“Our parson has gone mad!”

Few could refrain from twisting their heads towards the door. . . .

. . . more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the


Hawthorne, after exposing the surprised people to the sable veil, develops the protagonist through a description of some of his less exotic and curious characteristics:

Mr. Hooper 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. The sermon which he now

delivered was marked by the same characteristics of style and manner as the general series of his pulpit oratory.

However, on this first day of wearing his black veil there is some peculiar difference in Hooper’s sermon:

But there was something, either in the sentiment of the discourse itself, or in the imagination of the auditors, which made it greatly the most powerful effort that they had ever heard from their pastor’s lips. It was tinged, rather more darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr.

The Birthmark Essay: The Theme

“The Birthmark” – The Theme

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “The Birthmark,” the dominant theme is love conquering self, though there is also present the theme of alienation resulting from the evil within mankind. This essay intends to explore, exemplify and develop this topic.

Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:

Alienation is perhaps the theme he handles with greatest power. “Insulation,” he sometimes called it – which suggests not only isolation but imperviousness. It is the opposite of that “osmosis of being” that Warren has written of, that ability to respond and relate to others and the world. . . . it puts one outside the ‘magic circle’ or the ‘magnetic chain’ of humanity, where there is neither love nor reality (54).

Waggoner’s theme of alienation does play a part in the tale, but the theme which dominates is that of love conquering self as exemplified in Georgiana’s growing love for Aylmer. Her love transforms her very soul. “Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere’” (McPherson 68-69). “When he desired to build the kingdom of God, he looked for the pattern of it, not in history nor in the fortunes of those about him, but in his own heart (Erskine 180).

In the opening paragraph of “The Birthmark” the narrator introduces Aylmer as a scientist who “had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one.” Hawthorne’s description of the scientist’s love for Georgiana is apt, for love is just that – spiritual. And the theme of this tale is a spiritual one. Through the course of the story Aylmer declines spiritually, while Georgiana advances spiritually.

Even after Aylmer has “persuaded a be…

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…John. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Leading American Novelists. New York: Books For Libraries Press, 1968.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark” Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

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