Read The Minister's Black Veil
The Minister's Black Veil

The Minister's Black Veil - Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil (1832) is a fascinating parable about hiding behind appearances instead of following our consciences. How would your friends react if you started wearing a veil to school?

Read the story: The Minister's Black Veil, Character Analysis & Summary, Genre & Themes, Symbolism of the Veil, Historical Context, Quotes, Discussion Questions, Paired Readings, Useful Links, and Notes/Teacher Comments

Read The Minister's Black Veil
Oldest Puritan Meetinghouse in Massachusetts

Character Analysis & Summary


Plot Summary

The Minister's Black Veil: Milford meeting-house, 1667
Early Parish meetinghouse, 1667

Genre & Themes


Literary Elements

Primary Themes

Comparative Themes

Oh Could I Raise the Darken'd Veil
Crape veil circa 1880

Symbolism of the Veil

The veil, as Reverend Mr. Hooper reveals in the story, is a symbol of secret sin, hiding one's true nature, and a lack of awareness of one's own consciousness. It's the external "face" we all wear to comply with expectations from our neighbors, society, church. Its presence was the emblem of his lesson; it caused discomfort, revealed petty suspicions and busybody behavior. The reverend never waivered in his convictions; he refused to remove it in his attempt to teach his parishioners to reveal their own true selves. Ironically, though the parishioners should have been the ones wearing veils, Hooper sacrificed himself on their behalf, suffering isolation, despair, and heartbreak.

We can clearly extend the symbolism of the veil to represent the "crown of thorns" Jesus wore, representing all sin, suffering for his people, whom he hopes find enlightnment after his sacrifice and death.

Hawthorne does not "shroud" the message of this powerful parable. The veil represents both evil and redemption at the same time.

The Minister's Black Veil Study Guide: History of Puritans
New England Puritan meetinghouse interior

Historical Context

The story, written in 1832, is set in a Puritan (Protestant) village in New England, Milford, Massachusetts. Puritans left England for the New World to escape persecution and judgement in the hands of others in power. The strict religious convictions and social morays of the religion required conformity and cast judgement and punishment on anyone in their congregation who failed to conform to the Puritan ideals.

There were two types: "separating" Puritans, such as the Plymouth colonists, who believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must separate themselves from it; and "non-separating" Puritans, such as the colonists who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed in reform, but not separation. Most Massachusetts colonists were nonseparating Puritans who wished to reform the established church, largely Congregationalists who believed in forming churches through voluntary compacts. Legacies of Puritanism include modern-day practicing Protestants which include Lutheran, Anglican, and Quaker denominations, and the so-called "Protestant work-ethic" which implies staunch focus of hard work and good deeds. Read more about Puritanism in New England

Hawthorne, and many other authors who embraced the genre of Dark Romanticism, cast judgement of their own on Puritans' treatment of sin, judgement, and human fallibility. Their stories often revealed the hypocrisy or failure of these religious and cultural institutions to perpetuate, rather than eradicate, the sins they were trying so forcefully to admonish.

As an interesting footnote to the story, published in Hawthorne's book Twice-Told Tales:
"Another clergyman in New England, Mr. Joseph Moody, of York, Maine, who died about eighty years since, made himself remarkable by the same eccentricity that is here related of the Reverend Mr. Hooper. In his case, however, the symbol had a different import. In early life he had accidentally killed a beloved friend, and from that day till the hour of his own death, he hid his face from men."

The Minister's Black Veil Study Guide: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne


Explain what the following quotes mean and how they relate to the story:

The Minister's Black Veil: Milford, Massachusetts, 1888 map
Milford, Massachusetts in 1888

Discussion Questions

The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter

Paired Reading Suggestions

Compare and contrast themes and literary elements in The Minister's Black Veil with another story involving Puritans:

For your paired reading selection, compare plot and themes, how irony is central to the story, and contrasts that differentiate the stories.

Teachers: Challenge students to identify other stories they've read which contain dramatic irony, perhaps assign them to compose their own, to more fully appreciate the richness and appeal of irony in storytelling. It's both a pleasure for the audience and the writer!

The Minister's Black Veil Study Guide: History of Puritans
Puritans: Liberty of Conscience

Teacher Resources
A Teacher's Work Is Never Done

Notes/Teacher Comments

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