"The Minister's Black Veil," Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story about a clergyman in a Puritan New England town who dons a black veil every day, is commonly taught in high schools and middle schools. Most readers understand the veil to symbolize the ways people hide their wrongdoings and immoral thoughts from others, putting on a persona, like a veil, that hides their true selves. If you're seeking a thesis idea for a school paper, you can take many approaches to this famous story.
Discuss the Veil as a Symbol
What is the meaning of the black veil? What does it symbolize, and what is Rev. Hooper's purpose in wearing it? How do you know? Find passages that reveal the veil's meaning as the story goes on. Make a judgment about how effective a symbol the veil is, and back up your opinion with events and passages in the story. If Rev. Hooper is seeking to teach his congregation a lesson, does it work? For whom does it work, and when?
Show How the Townspeople Go Through Five Stages of Grief
When people are grieving or faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem or change, they commonly go through five emotional stages before coming to terms with the situation: denial ("it's not true; this is not happening"), anger, bargaining ("if I change something about myself, I can prevent terrible things from happening"), depression and, finally, acceptance. Show how the townspeople in "The Minister's Black Veil" go through all five of these stages as they try to interpret Rev. Hooper's veil and deal with their horror of it. (Not all the townspeople necessarily go through all five stages, but all five are represented in the story.) Back up your claim with quotations from the text.
Compare "The Minister's Black Veil" to "The Stranger"
Musician Billy Joel wrote a famous song titled "The Stranger," whose lyrics include these lines: "Well, we all have a face/That we hide away forever /And we take them out and show ourselves/When everyone has gone/ ... They're the faces of the stranger/But we love to try them on" (see Resources). Compare and contrast this song to "The Minister's Black Veil." What messages do the two works have in common? What do they each have to say about secrets, friendship and romance? How are they different, both in form and in content?
Analyze the Story's Characters
Choose one or more characters to analyze. What do we learn about Rev. Hooper, the title character, over the course of the story? What is he like as a spiritual leader? A beau? What do you think it's like for him to see the world through the veil? How does he change over the course of the story? Regarding his fiancee, Elizabeth: How would you characterize her? How is she different from other people in the town? What role does she play in revealing the veil's purpose to us? How does she change over the course of one scene? Look also at the townspeople. What sort of people are they? How do they respond to the veil? How do they interpret it? How do their reactions to the veil change as the story moves along?
- enotes.com: "The Minister's Black Veil"
- Bookrags.com: "The Minister's Black Veil": A Paradigm Study Guide
- Kansas State University: Explicating a Symbol: The Case of "The Minister's Black Veil"
- Dr. Edward E. Eller, University of Louisiana at Monroe: Reading Guide for Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"
- Web English Teacher: "The Minister's Black Veil" Discussion
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