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“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne


According to Frank Preston Stearns Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on the fourth of July 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. To be born on this day which is so special for the United States of America is “as if to make a protest against Chauvinistic patriotism” ( Frank Preston Stearns, 35). His ancestors belonged to those first Puritans who came to the territory of New England. The family home at 27 Hardy Street where the writer was born is now a museum. His father was a Captain in the U. S. Navy who died when Nathaniel was only four years old. After his death he and his mother moved a couple of houses down the street where they lived and stayed with his mother’s parents. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s childhood was rather bookish and this contributed to his becoming a writer. Nathaniel attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine from 1821 to 1824. Studying at college, he never though of acquiring traditional professions because during the studies he already started writing short stories and was published in some of local magazines. At this, some of his novels were published anonymously. After graduating the college Nathaniel had no means to study a normal profession and had no influential relatives to help him get a job and find a place for him in this world. Teaching was the only thing he was allowed to do according to the education he got at college but it turned out to be difficult to find a job even in this sphere. In those times the college graduates were regarded as proud and neglectful people which some of these were indeed but those who weren’t had to suffer from this prejudice. Nathaniel had to agree to the job of a book-keeper in some kind of a stage company because he simply had no other choice.

The begin of the career

Unable to find a job which would be worth him, Hawthorne started writing. However, his first work, “Fanshawe”, turned out to be not very successful. Nevertheless, subsequent short stories were a success “My Kinsman, Major Molyneaux”, “Young Goodman Brown” and “Roger Malvin’s Burial” being among them. In 1839 Hawthorne was forced to start his career as a Boston Custom House measurer because what he earned as a writer was not enough for living. In 1842 having earned enough money for marriage and conquered the heart of a painter Sophia Peabody with who he later moved to Concorde, Massachusetts where Nathaniel wrote his collections o9f short stories “Mosses from an Old Manse” (1846) and “Mosses from an Old Manse” (1846). Nathaniel and Sophia Peabody had three children. In 1945 Nathaniel comes back to Salem where he gets a position of a surveyor in the Boston Custom House. But with the change of the president Nathaniel was dismissed from the post and that is when he started working seriously under one of his most famous and successful novels “Scarlett Letter”. Driven by the success produced by “Scarlett Letter” Hawthorne finishes “The House of the Seven Gables”. His two subsequent novels “The Blithedale Romance” and “The marble Faun” turned out to be big disappointments.

In 1952 Nathaniel returned to Concord. He bought a house there and called it “The Wayside”. After that he traveled around Europe and lived mostly in France and Italy. He came back to “The Wayside” right before the start of the Civil War.

Nathaniel Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864 in his sleep and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts. He was respected as a writer and a person but like most of talented people his contribution into the world literature was appreciated only after his death: “I trust to have given credit where it was due to my predecessors, in the good work of making known the true character of so rare a genius and so exceptional a personality.” (Frank Preston Stearns, 5).

Nathaniel’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” in its time became a point of a wide discussion. Some of people liked it whereas the others criticized it. E. Earle Stibitz in his “Ironic Unity in Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” states that to respectively appreciate a Hawthorne’s piece of writing one has to read at least a couple of them in order to be able to compare them “viewing it in the context of his essentially consistent thought and art as a whole” (E. Earle Stibitz, 182)

At the beginning of his essay E. Earle Stibitz states that the story “The Minister’s Black Veil” is ironic which none of people recognized before. He separates out two levels of the presentation of this story. On the first level Hawthorne expresses his belief that every person tends to hide some of his private thoughts. This is what Reverend Mr. Hooper is trying to explain. On the second level “man is often guilty of pridefully and harmfully exalting one idea, frequently a valid truth in itself, to the status of an absolute” (E. Earle Stibitz, 182). These two levels are dependant upon each other and it can be explained by the fact that Hooper, trying to use the veil parable as a sin commits another one, namely distorting the meaning of the world.

E. Earle Stibliz offers an idea that all the critics who were arguing upon and discussing Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” worked out three basic interpretations of this story. According to the first interpretation, the veil is the sign of some kind of a crime Mr. Hooper must have committed. The second interpretation is all about using the veil in order to hide man’s inner feelings and maybe even some kind of guilt. The third interpretation states that there is definitely something wrong in this veil the minister wears.

Further in his work E. Earle Stibliz is trying to figure out the ironic meaning of “The Minister’s Black Veil” which. As he thinks is achieved due to the vertical or logical structure of the short story. He offers five divisions of the structure and then describes each of them. The beginning of the first division is the minister’s experiencing of estrangement from both, man and God. In the second division according to E. Earle Stibliz dramatization of two contrasted events, wedding and funeral, takes place. The climax is revealed in the third division” with the two futile attempts to break through the wall of isolation that the minister has erected, one attempt by members of the congregation, the other by Elizabeth, his fiancée. In the fourth division the three previous ones are repeated presenting results of the events. And the final division emphasizes once again the relationship between two levels of meaning. Regardless the fact that a lot of people attended Hooper when he was dying, the veil between him and the world didn’t let anybody in and made him die in loneliness: “In these closing moments of his life, his monomania is so powerful that even amid his convulsive struggles the wanderings of his mind he is desperately careful to keep the veil over his face. And it is still upon his face when he is buried, a token of his final lack of repentance” (E. Earle Stibliz, 189).


In conclusion, it should be added that different people have different points of view and reading one and the same story people may have different interpretations of it. To me, the veil seemed nothing more that a boundary the minister tried to built between him and the outer world in order to protect himself from excess emotions and sufferings which can be so numerous and unfair in our world. On the one hand the minister is the one to blame for the fact that he never manage to open himself even to the closest people who surrounded him though on the other hand he deserves some compassion as it is not always easy to share your fears and ideas with somebody who you don’t know as a person as it often happens that people we seem to have known for ages turn out to be complete strangers. “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and every person may find something interesting in it. What’s more, it is very instructive and shows what happens if your distrust to people does not lessen as you get to know them better.

Works Cited

Frank Preston Stearns. The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1993.

E. Earle Stibliz. “Ironic Unity in Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”. American Literature 34.2 (1962): 182-190.

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1. StudyKraken. "“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne." September 19, 2021.


StudyKraken. "“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne." September 19, 2021.


StudyKraken. 2021. "“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne." September 19, 2021.


StudyKraken. (2021) '“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne'. 19 September.

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