Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black
Veil" is ostensibly the story of a minister who, for the majority
of his life, uses a black veil to hide his face from his
congregation. This black veil causes those around him to question
all but himself as to the its logic. Additionally, the black veil
creates tension in some, grief in others and endless gossip for
all. The ramifications of "The Minister's Black Veil" have been
under the penetrating light of the critic's microscope for years
and, I have no doubt, will be for years to come. The principal
reason for this is explained best by R. H. Fogle when he suggests
that "many interpretations are possible when an author
consciously ...view middle of the document...
neither of these statements are classified as etymological, they
do convince one to surmise that a conscious concerted effort is
being made, by Hawthorne, to incorporate dissimilar words,
thereby establishing the thermatic relevance of puns.
An example of Hawthorne's engaging in prolific wordplay is
revealed at the end of the story as Reverend Clark requests
permission to "cast aside this black veil from [Hooper's] face"
(Literature). The narrator states that Reverend Clark "bent
forward to reveal the mystery of so many years" (Literature).
As expressed by Norman German "'Reveal' is related to 'veil' and
means, literally, to 'unveil'" (Fiction v25(1): 42). The pun fits
the proximity and thematic tests as argued by Norman German, and
although some critics regard these as coincidental, the puns on
"veil" strengthen the thought that Hawthorne consciously uses
words to reinforce a major theme of his story.
Hawthorne exploits the two fold aspect of words, which, like
us, often "put on fronts" masking complex interiors. This
rhetorically reinforces the "fear" and "trembling" which Hooper's
veil inspires, and indicates Hawthorne is playing off the root
meanings of words. A sexton shouts in "astonishment" (to thunder)
in the story. The confusement of the parishioners is suggested,
etymologically, by the use of words such as "amazement" (to
confuse), "wonder-struck", and "perturbation" (to disturb).
Still, Hooper's purpose in life is "to win rather than to drive
them thither, by the thunders of the word" (Literature).
"Persuasive influences" etymologically suggest sweet flowing and
is substantiated in Ernest Klein's A Comprehensive Etymological
Dictionary of the English Language. In a single sentence
Hawthorne embellishes the trembling imagery, "There was nothing
terrible [tremble] in what Mr. Hooper said...yet, with every
tremor [overt use] of his melancholy voice, quaked [overt use]"
(Literature). Later a woman describes the veil as "'a terrible
[covert use] thing on Mr. Hooper's face'" (Literature).
Additionally, one should not overlook the young woman's corpse
which "shuddered" or when "the people trembled" at Hooper's
funeral sermon (Literature). Subsequently, at the wedding,
while still wearing the "horrible" [covert use of horrere, to
tremble] veil "the bride's cold fingers quivered in the tremulous
hand of the bridegroom" (Literature). Hooper, as he
attempts to perform a toast to the couple, sees his own image
reflected in the wine and "the black veil involved his own spirit
in the horror with which it overwhelmed all others. His frame
shuddered..." (Literature). Hawthorne consistently uses Latin
and Greek derivatives for words throughout the story.
Hawthorne obvious use of Latin and Greek meanings for words
is directly related to his educational prowess and is attested to
best by biographer Randall Stewart who states;
"candidates for matriculation at Bowdoin were required
to write Latin grammatically, and to be well versed