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The Minister's Black Veil by Hawthorne: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • 0:57 Story Summary
  • 2:11 Important Quotations
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

In this lesson, we will go over a summary of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 19th-century short story 'The Minister's Black Veil.' We will then cover some important quotations from the text..

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing tends to center on the New England area and specifically early American Puritans. Descendants of dissenting groups who left England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to escape persecution, the Puritans maintained a rigid society built on faith and fear of a vengeful God. Hawthorne explored Puritan themes to make comments about nineteenth-century society and what he saw as puritanical principles in an allegedly civil, open society.

Hawthorne wrote many famous texts, including The Scarlet Letter, Young Goodman Brown, and Rappaccini's Daughter. Most of Hawthorne's texts are Gothic in nature, meaning that they deal with dark themes of both the natural and the supernatural world. Although Gothic literature had largely died out in England, Hawthorne helped to revive the genre in America together with Edgar Allan Poe.

Story Summary

The Minister's Black Veil was first published in 1832. It has very few characters, which is expected of short stories. Unlike novels, short stories have limited space with which to unfold their plots. The main character in The Minister's Black Veil is the minister himself, Mr. Hooper.

The story begins when Mr. Hooper stands before his congregation in a small Puritan town. The people are shocked to see, however, that Mr. Hooper is wearing a veil over the top half of his face. All they can see is his mouth and chin.

Mr. Hooper gives a sermon about secret sin and then attends the funeral of a woman. Before the coffin is removed, Mr. Hooper leans over the body, seemingly in communication. People begin to gossip about the veil and what sort of secret sin Mr. Hooper is hiding. Thereafter, Mr. Hooper performs a wedding ceremony, and his black veil casts darkness over the union.

Mr. Hooper's fiancee, Elizabeth, implores him to remove the veil. He refuses, and she ends the engagement. Mr. Hooper continues a life of successful preaching and eventually falls ill. Elizabeth visits him on his death bed, where he says that everyone is wearing black veils. He dies and is buried with his veil still intact.

Important Quotations

'Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil.' This quotation appears early in the short story and describes the mysterious veil on Mr. Hooper's face. The non-rigid nature of the material suggests just how easily it could be removed, though Mr. Hooper refuses to do so.

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