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.
Minister’s Black Veil – Poverty in Minister’s Black Veil and in Hawthorne’s Life
Poverty in “The Minister’s Black Veil” and in Hawthorne’s Life
How many readers have considered that the utter simplicity within the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” might be an expression or reflection of the utter poverty within the life of Hawthorne? It is the purpose of this essay to clarify this issue.
Hawthorne’s impoverishment probably began with the untimely death of his father, and continued until 1857. He had no money for a college education. Gloria C. Erlich in “The Divided Artist and His Uncles” states that “Robert Manning made the essential decisions in the lives of the Hawthorne children and is well known as the uncle who sent Hawthorne to college” (35). After graduation from Bowdoin College Hawthorne spent twelve years in his room at home in an intense effort to make something of himself literarily. The Norton Anthology: American Literature states:
Hawthorne’s years between 1825 and 1837 have fascinated his biographers and critics. Hawthorne himself took pains to propagate the notion that he had lived as a hermit who left his upstairs room only for nighttime walks and hardly communicated even with his mother and sisters (547).
Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty and E. Hudson Long in “The Social Criticism of a Public Man” consider his poverty a determining influence in his life: “…a young man engrossed in historical study and in learning the writer’s craft is not notably queer if he does not seek society or marriage, especially if he is poor” (47-48). Fame was slow in coming for the author, likewise prosperity. Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” explains in great detail the unfortunate financial uncertainty which …
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Erlich, Gloria C. “The Divided Artist and His Uncles.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/goodman/goodmantext.html
James, Henry. Hawthorne. http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/nhhj1.html
Lewis, R. W. B. “The Return into Time: Hawthorne.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature, edited by Baym et al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1995.
Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.