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What are some of the symbols in "The Minister's Black Veil?"?

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Quick Answer

Reverend Hooper's black veil and his face are the two dominant symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil." The black veil has two symbolic meanings: a facade of decency that the minister dons in the presence of others and a shield hiding iniquity in the minister's past.

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Full Answer

Many of Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories center on the role of shame in Puritan North America. One morning, Reverend Hooper shows up for church wearing a black veil that only reveals his mouth and chin, hiding the rest of his face. At first, this change causes a great deal of comment from the congregation, but after his initial sermon about the dangers of secret sin, the minister keeps wearing the veil without any further comment. Over time, he becomes a more effective minister, as many converts feel like they are also behind that veil with him.

Unfortunately, the veil costs Reverend Hooper his fiancee, Elizabeth. She begs him to take it off, but he refuses to take it off or even to explain why he is wearing it. Eventually, she breaks off the engagement, and he goes to his grave with the veil, without explanation. His face comes to symbolize the private self behind that veil that he refuses to reveal to the world.

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