April 12, 2014
Alienation Within a Veil
All people struggle, some more than others, but everyone struggles. People’s journeys vary. It is how they choose to carry their burdens that make them the men and women they become. Some falter; others shine. Sometimes, people feel broken. When this happens, they often feel like they have to hide themselves from the world. In the “Minister’s Black Veil,” Nathanial Hawthorne demonstrates alienation through the depiction of peoples inherent sin, particularly in the way the minister uses the veil to hide his own sin.
Nathanial Hawthorne uses the veil as a symbol to depict man’s alienation from himself as well as other people in addition to his own sin. In “The Minister’s Black Veil”, symbolism is progressively involved in the provocation of conflict. It is called a “symbol of symbols” (Stibitz 225) because it recalls the idea of symbolism itself. A symbol is defined as an object that is understood to represent some concrete and tangible object while representing one or more abstract ideas. The black “piece of crepe” is presented as a symbol that represents hidden sin (Hawthorne1). Clearly, the veil is not just a “piece of crepe” (Hawthorne 1). It represents Hooper’s original sin and serves as a mask that alienates him from his congregation. According to Earl E. Stibitz, the veil serves as a “revelation of concealment” (224). Hooper’s face may be concealed by the veil, but the veil, although supposedly serving as a mask, shows only his alienation by concealing him from his congregation. The veil becomes the expression of his sin and the symbol of his alienation. Nathanial Hawthorne illustrates man’s inherent sin and alienation from himself by using Hooper’s internal conflict. Hawthorne illustrates Hooper’s internal struggle with sin when he asks Hooper to remove the veil before his death when he says, “’... let me cast aside this black veil from your face!’” (Hawthorne 5). If Hooper is dead and God is truly an all-forgiving God, then it is not necessary for the minister to hide his sin at all; however, because his conflict is internal, Hawthorne illustrates his alienation when he refuses to remove the veil. Timothy Montbriand states that “[Hooper] cannot lift the veil himself. Only God can do that at the final judgment” (214). The idea that Hooper cannot lift the veil himself illustrates his struggle with his own sin. His internal conflict is alienating him from his own God. Additionally, Earl E. Stibitz sees the “veil as a symbol of hidden guilt” (224). Hooper’s own shame and his perceived sin makes him hide himself from the world, and he uses the veil to do so. It is his own guilt that alienates him from the world. Hawthorne ties Hooper’s internal struggle directly to the veil, using it to represent Hooper’s, and indirectly, man’s alienation. The minister experiences external conflict when the veil isolates him from the people and from his wife, as well as forces him to recognize his own sin. For example, Hooper’s fiancée asks him to “’lift the veil but once, and look me in the face’” (Hawthorne 4). The veil, an external factor directly causing all of Hooper’s conflict, is directly to blame for causing friction even between Hooper and his closest companion, his love. The external conflict becomes more tangible as the parishioners resort to outright