Providing a battle cry for the Romantics, Rousseau exemplifies one of the main tenants of Romanticism. Romantics believe that chains are placed upon people in every aspect of their lives, whether it be societally, mentally, or by any other influence, and that these restrictions dominate everyone’s lives and, unknowingly, humans are influenced by them in everything we do. These chains are demonstrated in two short stories, “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walden by Henry David
Thoreau. In Hawthorne’s work, a minister chooses to wear a veil to cover his face, thus imposing a barrier to the world upon himself, while encouraging society to force restrictions on him. Thoreau describes his time spent in solitary confinement in the woods, and that allows him to reflect on society and the individual. Through purposeful alienation of themselves from society, the minister and Thoreau exemplify chains placed on humanity, both societal and mental, and the effects that these restrictions have yet while Thoreau idolizes the individual, the minister condemns it.
Thoreau and the minister choose to alienate themselves from society and search for the effects of society has on the individual. The minister wears his black veil constantly, though no one knows why, and this provokes an aura of dread among the community, so much so that he cannot “walk the street with any peace of mind… The gentle and timid… turn aside to avoid him, and others make it a point of hardihood to throw themselves in his way” (Hawthorne, 261). His wearing of the veil is voluntary, and because of the mystery surrounding it, people choose to fear and dread the veil and
shun the minister, thus alienating him for his own action. The minister’s black veil is a symbol of his sin, and when encountered with an unknown sin corrupting a community, people choose to shun the sinner. However, sin is hidden within every community, yet people pretend it is not, and thus it is only when encountered with sin face to face who choose to be afraid and dread it, rather than accept that sin is present in everyone.
Therefore, out of ignorance and desire to protect the community from sin, society places chains on all, exemplified by the mister, and subtly proclaims that if sin is shown publicly within the community, the sinner will be punished. Society’s influence on the individual is also prominent in Thoreau’s work when he is describing his life in the woods: “It is remarkable how easy and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond side… How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”
Even when living alone, Thoreau follows the norms that society has established, such as having a routine path. He finds comfort in conforming to society, despite living in solitude, reflecting that if regularity in one’s life can form a path in the woods, then the well‐followed routes of life must be worn out as well, thus humans must deviate from the established norms in order to make a difference. Even when away from society the societal norms are ingrained within him, and thus society haunts Thoreau in his habitual