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Oliver Curtis 2/24/12 English III Honors

Symbolism in The Ministers Black Veil How can a single piece of cloth influence and change the expanse of a mans life? The Ministers Black Veil, a short story that is a perfect representation of this, was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is primarily about a minister who dons a black veil, causing conflict with those around him. Symbolism plays the major role in the story development of The Ministers Black Veil, influencing the other elements in the story and enhancing the message being expressed. In The Ministers Black Veil, symbolism is progressively involved in the provocation of conflict. All the problem that occur in the story are a direct result of the main character, Parson Hooper, donning the veil. For example, Hoopers fiancee asks him to lift the veil but once; however, he refuses, causing her to leave him. This shows how the veil is directly to blame for causing friction even between Hooper and his closest companion. While external conflict is more widespread in The Ministers Black Veil, symbolism also influences internal conflict. Hooper said, [He] perhaps, like other mortals, [has] sorrows enough to be typified by a black veil (Hawthorne 307). Hoopers continued use of the veil to represent his sorrows is an obvious sign that he is struggling with internal conflict, in the form of guilt from past sins. The overall enmity of the populace towards Hooper and his guilty conscience for past misdeeds are essentially the basis of his problems, but he still wears it in order to express his idea.

The presence of symbolism also aides in the conveyance of the recurring theme in the story: hidden sin. It is this very point that Hooper is trying to make when he first wears the veil. While on his death-bed, Hooper remarks that he should only be deemed a monster for wearing the veil only when man no longer hides his sin. Through this statement, he finally reveals the meaning of the cloth he wears; it represents those evil deeds men have hidden deep inside, away from the visible world. Supporting this, Sarah Wright remarks, The veil...becomes an emblem of the passion for concealment that afflicts all humans to a greater or lesser degree (Wright 167). With his last spoken words, Hooper emphasises that everyone has a form of secret sin. He says, [He looks] around [him] and lo! on every visage a black veil (Hawthorne 307). This was Hoopers legacy, to prove that even though they do not wear a black veil, everyone has done evils of the darkest nature, known only by God and themselves. The symbol of his veil is the focal point of the theme and plays a part in contributing to the Puritan setting. Through the use of symbols, Hawthorne exhibits the Puritan attitude toward change in his story. At this period in time, those belonging to the Puritan religion were not exactly prone to abandoning tradition. An old woman in the story states, He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face (Hawthorne 300). Her statement is a perfect example of how behaving in an even slightly unorthodox manner was heavily frowned upon by the Puritans. At one point in the story, the narrator reflects that, out of all the busybodies and impertinent people, no one dared ask Hooper about his veil. The narrators description of the peoples judgemental nature, especially towards the veil, strengthens the Puritan atmosphere and contributes to the setting.

The initial effect of the veil on the congregation in the story exemplifies their stereotypical Puritan adversity towards deviation from the norm. In retrospect, Symbolism has a profound level of influence on Hawthornes The Minsters Black Veil. It instigates conflict, helps to relate the theme of the story, and adds to the Puritan setting. It is from works like this one that the importance of symbolism in literature can be quantified.

Works Cited: Oliver Curtis

Wright, Sarah Bird. Critical Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2007. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Ministers Black Veil. Elements of Literature Fifth Course. Ed. Richard Sime, Austin, Texas: Holt, Rineheart and Winston, 1999. 299-307. Print.