Generally, I like reading books which stimulate their readers to ponder, especially those written in plain language but reflecting profound meanings, because when I put these books aside, I feel I've already learnt something, not just wasting my time. For this reason, I have chosen "The Minister's Black Veil" to write about, though by the time I made this decision I still wasn't able to comprehend the short story thoroughly, or to be exact, I just understand it vaguely. I believe it is worth my efforts. The plot is quite simple.
The minister, Mr.Hooper wears a black veil over his eyes and nose which leads to profound changes in the public's perception of him. The author chooses to mask the character of the minister with a black scrap of cloth to construct an allegory which deals with the issue of secret sin. "… The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them… " In order to further our understanding of this short story, Mr.Hooper is the key.
Therefore, I would like to direct my attention to Mr. Hooper. Surprisingly, upon close reading, my understanding differs from my previous thoughts. The first question we tend to ask is why Mr. Hooper decides to wear the veil. Some may say it is obvious that the minister has committed some kind of blunder, therefore, he finds a way to prevent his friends and potential family from finding out what he has done. It sounds reasonable and I used to hold the same opinion. However, on a second thought, I believe it is not necessarily the case.
First, let's take a look at what Mr. Hooper has said before his death, "… I look around me, and lo! On every visage a black veil!… " He is saying that everyone else in the community puts on a invisible veil of innocence and righteousness in order to hide his sinfulness from the knowledge of everyone else in the community and even from themselves. Then, if the minister just wants to hide his secret sin, wouldn't it be easier if he simply followed suit? Isn't the invisible veil more effective than the visible veil? In fact, by overtly wearing a visible black veil, Mr.
Hooper discloses his parishioners that he is not disclosing to them his particular sin. He does confess the abstract fact that he is sinful. Actually, Mr. Hooper does not wear a veil, on the contrary, he removes a veil from his face. He is trying to convey this information to his parishioners, hoping that they can understand his gesture and eventually "… There is an hour to come when all of us shall cast aside our veils… " Yet, the people focus all their attention on what's behind the minister's veil and distract themselves from getting the message. That is, they persist in wearing an invisible veil.
Another noticeable theme of this short story is alienation. The question I want to raise here is "Is it simply about the minister's alienation from his parishioners? " It seems that it is Mr. Hooper who chooses to mask and isolate himself from other people. In fact, it is those people who decide to alienate themselves from Mr. Hooper, just because he confesses the fact that he is sinful. "… It grieved him, to the very depth of his kind heart, to observe how the children fled from his approach, breaking up their merriest sports, while his melancholy figure was yet afar off…
" Mr. Hooper is a stranger, or even a monster to them, but so are they, in reality, strangers to each other. Every person in this community alienates himself from every other by concealing his innermost heart, and precisely because he believes were he to reveal it to his fellows, they would expel him from their fellowship—drive him into banishment, just like Mr. Hooper, who has just taken the first step. The price of admitting to oneself that one is sinful means that one is not fit to remain in the community. Actually, everyone alienates himself from others in a sense.
Finally, I would like to mention a detail in this story—the smile which appears in Mr. Hooper's face over and over again. "… A sad smile gleamed faintly from beneath the black veil… " "… Mr. Hooper's smile glimmered faintly… " "… Father Hooper fell back upon his pillow, a veiled corpse, with a faint smell lingering on the lips… " what does this smile imply? Mr. Hooper is trying to awaken the people but only to find that all his effects remain in vain. Even until his death, no single person understands him.
Being aware of this, we can comprehend the meaning of the smile more easily—self-pity as well as pity for his parishioners. In addition to the three points I have mentioned above, there are also other aspects which can be discussed, but these three have impressed me most. To be honest, I don't like this short story very much, because it casts a gloomy atmosphere which makes me uncomfortable. However, this is exactly what the author wants to achieve in order to explicate the theme. Anyway, "The Minister's Black Veil" is worth further and close reading.