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The Minister's Black Veil by Hawthorne: Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:04 The Gothic Genre
  • 0:59 'The Minister's Black…
  • 2:37 'The Minister's Black…
  • 3:57 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, you will learn about the principal theme of Nathaniel Hawthorne's ''The Minster's Black Veil,'' in addition to seeing some analysis of the short story.

The Gothic Genre

Nathaniel Hawthorne's ''The Minister's Black Veil,'' which was first published in 1837, is a preeminent example of the American Gothic genre, which was the United States' version of the Gothic genre of literature. Some other examples that you may know are Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), and Edgar Allan Poe's ''The Tell-Tale Heart'' (1843).

The Gothic genre was a genre of literature primarily focused on death and romance. This genre of literature began in Britain in the mid-eighteenth century, and it became wildly popular in the 1790s. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, however, the Gothic genre had largely fallen out of favor in Britain. American writers, however, such as Hawthorne, revitalized the genre, adding their own spin by representing America's macabre history.

The Minister's Black Veil Themes

The main theme of ''The Minister's Black Veil'' is secret sin. The story begins with Mr. Hooper presiding over the congregation of a Puritan town. The church-goers are horrified to see, however, that Mr. Hooper wears a veil that covers the top half of his face. This veil comes to represent the minister's sin, which remains a secret for the whole story.

Mr. Hooper initially gives a sermon about sin, and he later attends the funeral of a woman. Before the coffin is removed, however, Mr. Hooper leans over the body. The veil moves forward so that, if the corpse was still alive, she would have seen Hooper's face: ''As he stooped, the veil hung straight down from his forehead, so that, if her eyelids had not been closed forever, the dead maiden might have seen his face.''

Townspeople become consumed with the meaning of the veil and gossip about the secret sin that Mr. Hooper is concealing. In another scene, Mr. Hooper performs a wedding ceremony, and his black veil casts darkness over the union.

The secret sin begins to affect Mr. Hooper's personal life. His fiancee, Elizabeth, urges 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 deathbed, where he says that everyone is wearing black veils. He dies and is buried with his veil still intact. The theme of secret sin comes out most forcefully at the end. It isn't that only Mr. Hooper has a secret sin, but rather that we all do, hidden behind non-material masks.

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