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Nathaniel Hawthorne greatly contributed to the development of fiction in the period of American Romanticism. He was born in Massachusetts in a Puritan family that’s why he despised the hypocrisy, brutality and sham morality in the world about him. So the Puritan influence was felt in his works. The central idea of Puritanism was God’s supreme authority over human affairs. At that time people believed that the world was created for man, and man was created for God.
The Puritans honored hierarchy among men as divine order. The essence of social order layed in the authority of the husband over wife, parents over children and masters over servants. The order also provided a rule that when a woman got married, she gave all her property to her husband and became a feme covert and lost her separate civil identity in his.
The story “The Minister’s Black Veil”
Hawthorne used the symbolic image of a veil in any of his works. But the most vivid example was the story “The Minister’s Black Veil”. The author began his odd story with an unexplained change in the appearance of the main hero – the town’s pastor. Up until the described Sunday Mr. Hooper was a good-looking man of above thirty, though still a bachelor. On Sunday he appeared with one strange change on his visage – a long, hanging down over his face, black veil.
It concealed his features except for the mouth and chin. His sight covered by the veil gave darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things around the person. The “darkened aspect” was very important because it showed the change in the minister’s viewpoint toward life. Though it didn’t give us a clue as to the reason Mr. Hooper put on the veil on that particular Sunday. When the parson read the Scriptures the veil stood like obscurity between him and the holy pages. The author pointed to the fact that the veil hid the minister’s face while reading the Bible and in fact it made the Bible itself seem more obscure.
In the story Hawthorne pondered upon the three ways of making God’s word clearer to people. The author himself and his main hero saw the mission of a clergyman in explaining the Bible to the congregation. So the purpose could be achieved by using one of three ways. First, a parson himself explained God’s word to make it clearer for everyone. The second way supposed the personification of God’s word through kindly disposed relations between every individual and clergy. The third way was the most important both for Hawthorne and Parson Hooper. It consisted in God’s word’s exemplification through the minister’s role as a living example of his faith.
Most people considered that in a good clergyman all those functions combined together so that it was hard to separate one from another. However, in the minister’s soul, the three functions were mutually contradictory. Mr. Hooper came to the conclusion that people in their sinfulness were far from God. Parson could only bring his congregation closer to God because people were too worldly. Mr. Hooper was different. He was different not because he was free from sin, but because of the deep profundity of his awareness of sin. That strong conviction separated him from the people and his black veil was only its manifestation. Parson was so conscious of his sinfulness that could not enjoy life like his fellow humans.
After putting on the veil the minister was not able to clarify the Scriptures because he began to doubt the rightness of God’s way. Consequently, the only reason for his ecclesiastic office was to be a living example of his faith and a warning to people who saw him. Hawthrone clearly showed it in the dramatic conclusion of the story. Parson Hooper died in great agony. On every face, he saw a black veil. By such an ending Hawthorne showed that separation from people led to loneliness and tragical inner conflicts. People had to live in harmony. No one had a right to put himself higher than others even if he was God’s servant.
Fogle, R.H. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and The Dark. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1992.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Selected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Fawcett, 1983.
Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. – Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 1995.
Perkins, George. The American Tradition in Literature, Volume 2, Tenth Edition. Easter Michigan University, 2003.
Van Doren, C. C. The American Novel. New York, 1990.