Before reading this post, read “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
On the third page a lady church goer and her husband discuss Minister Hooper wearing the black veil. He comments, “But the strangest part of the affair is the effect of this vagary, even on a sober-minded man like myself. The black veil, though it covers only our pastor’s face, throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him ghost-like from head to foot.” I believe this observation perfectly sums up, what Hawthorne was trying to convey in the short story, “The Minister’s Black Veil.”
The theme that is discussed through the dialogue of the husband is about sin and its effect not only on us, but others in our lives and communities. This theme of sin and its weight on the spirit of his characters’ is a prevalent theme Hawthorne explores, perhaps best known in “The Scarlet Letter.”
Being a Catholic, I understand and believe that sin possesses an invisible weight upon the soul of the individual who committed that sin. Often after committing the sin, we feel guilt which is followed by shame. I believe it was not only guilt the minister felt for committing sin, but also shame and self doubt because he is the leader of his church. A common Christian analogy is of a shepherd and his flock of sheep. The minister becomes unsure of how he can effectively shepherd his herd. His guilt which then processes into shame makes him feel self conscious.
So then in atonement for what he has done, he picks a fitting way to display these emotions. He picks a black veil, which would customarily be worn at a funeral. This custom revolves around death, the end of life. In the Catholic faith, we believe sin is like a cancer, which left untreated will lead to your spiritual death.
Minister Hooper hopes that by wearing the veil, in a way by being honest that he too is a sinner, he can shoulder some of the shame. Shame is essentially the pressure one feels when you are embarrassed by something others don’t know, and you are trying to keep that a secret. Again, as a Catholic we believe this is sin’s way of isolating us from others; because together, as a herd we are strong, and can hold each other accountable to “avoid the near occasions of sin.” (from the Act of Contrition) However, when we commit sin, feel guilty, do not fix or repent for what we have done, that turns into shame which withdraws us from our community. A systematic invisible cancer of the soul.
Lastly, the husband mentions how seeing the veil effects him as well. I believe this is an accurate depiction of how others feel when they are made aware of other’s sin. First, it is eye opening to realize that someone else isn’t perfect, the fall from that pedestal you placed them on. In addition, it also makes them more human, you can relate to them on a more equal level, as well as helps you see your own faults. I think the realization the husband has is reflective, upon his own sin, which add another level to the observation he makes with his wife. One of awareness and self actualization that he has sin he needs to deal with as well.