The Minister's Black Veil Book summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne



The minister’s black veil is set in a Puritan village in Massachusetts New England. The Puritans were a sect of Christianity that believed in establishing a personal relationship with God without the pomp of ceremony. However, Puritans had strong beliefs about godly behavior and so strictly discouraged dance, music, and celebration. The Minister’s Black Veil explores themes of Sin and Ostracism much like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter.


Plot Summary


The sexton tolls the bell on sabbath morning as the villagers of Milford gather for Sunday mass. The sexton notices the arrival of Reverend Hooper and is shocked by the veil that the Parson has wrapped around his head. The young bachelor priest was smartly dressed in his Sunday garb, but he had donned a crape veil that hung down to shield his face from view. The sexton was accompanied in his reaction by several other members of the congregation some of whom stood up to get a better look at the preacher as he walked to his pulpit. Reverend Hooper seemed not to notice the reaction of the congregation as he proceeded to take the pulpit and begin his sermon. He had always had a mild and rather melancholic manner that was reflected in his preaching. However, the addition of the veil seemed to give his words an ominous heft, or perhaps it was the subject. Reverend Hooper spoke of secret sin and sad mistakes that people hide from their loved ones and even from themselves. The congregation shuddered at his words and to some of them, it seemed that the priest could see their immoral deeds so that when the sermon ended members hurriedly clambered out of the church.

They gathered in clumps to discuss the veil and the minister. They felt relieved to have the veil out of sight and began to hypothesize why the young minister had decided to wear the veil. Reverend Hooper followed his flock out of the church and walked among them as he had always done in the past. The character of the interactions differed from all the previous times, as the parishioners seemed reluctant to engage with him. He eventually returned to the church but some say that they caught a glimpse of a sad smile beneath his veil. The village physician notes how the addition of a simple veil seemed to have a profound effect on the minister’s person so that he now felt like an apparition even to a sober person like himself. His wife agrees with him, and notes that she wouldn’t ever wish to be alone with him, and wonders how he can stand to be with himself with that veil.

The afternoon congregation has much the same reaction to the veil as the parishioners from the morning service. However, the minister attends the funeral of a young maiden later in the day, and there the veil seems to be a fitting symbol. Some of the funeral-goers notice the odd reaction the priest has when he stoops to pay the maiden a last farewell. The veil falls straight down from his forehead and exposes his face to the dead maiden, and the minister hurriedly catches back the veil as if he were afraid that the dead woman would see his face. He delivers a heartfelt prayer at her service and ends it with the prayer that they would all be ready when the day came for all of their veils to be torn from their face. His prayer and the veil heighten the gloom of the funeral service, and a couple of the villagers claim to see the minister walking with the apparition of the dead woman while leaving the funeral.

Milford was to witness the wedding of a handsome couple that night, and Reverend Hooper had a reputation for bringing a genial character to such proceedings. The wedding company waited for his arrival with the hope that the minister would have abandoned the veil, but they are sourly disappointed upon his arrival. He conducted the ceremony with earnestness yet the veil brought darkness to the affair that was felt by all the guests in addition to the new couple. The minister’s presence was brief, as he suddenly rushed out after catching a glimpse of his figure in a looking glass and appeared to shudder from it. The following day, villagers discussed the matter at length and speculated that the minister had committed some grave sin that had caused him to hide his face from the world, yet none of them had the gall to address the matter directly to him. Eventually, a deputation of the church sets out to speak to the minister, but even they are unable to bring up the matter when they meet him in person. They leave with the claim that a council would be required to address the matter, yet one person feels comfortable enough to speak to him about it. Elizabeth was promised to marry Reverend Hooper, and she asked him about the veil as soon as he came to see her. She requested that he take off the veil, but Reverend Hooper said that they would lay aside their veils one day but he would rather have it on till then. She asks him to explain his words, and he says that vow limits his explanation. However, he admits that he must now wear the veil for his whole life both in light and darkness. Elizabeth entreats him to take off the veil but fails to make an impression on him. She is finally overcome with sorrow and tells him that she cannot abide it in her life. Reverend Hooper attempts to stop her as he assures her that he loves her and that they should not be separated from each other because of the veil. He confesses to being afraid, and lonely behind the veil, but the veil inspires fear in her and so she leaves him. No one ever asks the minister about his veil ever again.

People begin to avoid interacting with him, and children run away when he approaches so he becomes extremely isolated. Rumors abound that the minister never likes to see his reflection, and this enforces the idea that he had committed some sinful act that kept him from taking off the veil. The mysterious symbol had the effect of making him an efficient priest, as people seemed to turn to him in their mortal anguish. His converts were devout and possessed of a dread from his person that strengthened their piety. The minister enjoyed the respect of his parishioners but his veil separated him from society so that he was ever alone. He served his vocation faithfully for several years and well into his old age until his breath grew faint and his pulse weakened. The old priest had come to be known as Father Hooper during his career, and though there were no personal connections on his death bed, there were several illustrious members of the church. His nurse was Elizabeth, who had remained faithful to him in secret and come to him in his hour of need.

The old minister even in the height of his sickness had kept the veil over his face. The young and zealous minister of Westbury was present in the minister’s final moments. As Father Hooper was preparing to leave his body, the Westbury minister suggested taking off the veil before his final moments. As he moved to take the veil off of his own accord, life seemed to return to father Hooper’s arms as he held down his veil. He told them that he would never take off the veil but only do so in the beyond. The young minister accuses him of some foul act that he was taking unconfessed to judgment but Father Hooper offers them all a stinging reply. He tells them that the fear they feel in their hearts is not of his veil but rather the ones that they are all wearing. Upon his death, Father Hooper is buried with his veil, with no one ever having dared to move it aside again.

  • Author(s)

    Nathaniel Hawthorne
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American Romanticism


Token and Atlantic Souvenir

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