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The Allegory in The Minister’s Black Veil

The Allegory in “The Minister’s Black Veil”

It is the purpose of this essay to show that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” is indeed an allegory. M. H. Abrams defines an allegory as a “narrative, whether in prose or verse, in which the agents and actions, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived by the author to make coherent sense on the ‘literal,’ or primary, level of signification, and at the same time to signify a second, correlated order of signification” (5).

Yvor Winters in “Maule’s Curse, or Hawthorne and the Problem of Allegory” says that Hawthorne is essentially an allegorist (11). Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” states that the author was always “perfecting his delicate craft of the symbol, of allegory” (42). A.N. Kaul states : “In an effort to apprehend and adequately reflect the new complexity of man’s life, he [Hawthorne] molded the venerable – in his case directly inherited – allegorical method into the modern technique of symbolism” (3).

It is quite obvious that “The Minister’s Black Veil” has a secondary signification. There are so many references or allusions to spiritual-moral values in the tale that on the level of secondary signification the Reverend Hooper may be interpretable as the new Adam. R. W. B. Lewis in “The Return into Time: Hawthorne” states: Finally, it was Hawthorne who saw in American experience the re-creation of the story of Adam and who . . . exploited the active metaphor of the American as Adam – before and during and after the Fall” (72). As the new Adam, Reverend Hooper recognizes sin in his life just as did the first Adam; he, as a minister, seeks to help his congregation recognize sin in their own lives so…

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The Central Conflict, Climax and Resolution in The Minister’s Black Veil

The Central Conflict, Climax and Resolution in “The Minister’s Black Veil”

This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” to determine the central conflict in the tale, its climax and partial resolution, using the essays of literary critics to help in this interpretation.

In the opinion of this reader, the central conflicts – the relation between the protagonist and antagonist (Abrams 225) – in the tale are an internal one, a spiritual-moral conflict within the minister, the Reverend Mr. Hooper, and an external one with the world at large represented by the congregation. Wilson Sullivan in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” tells where the author got the idea of a conflict between good and evil:

He looked back, deeply back into America’s Puritan past, the era of the New England theocracy, when the conflict of good and evil, freedom and tyranny, love and hatred was more explicit, more rigidly defined, free of the ambiguities of an increasingly pluralistic society, governed by a shared morality (70).

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


At this point begins the external conflict of the drama – between the minister and the people of his congregation, which will last until his death. Except for the sable veil, Reverend Hooper is quite a compatible and sociable personality:

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.

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