Throughout his literary endeavors, Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes symbolism to present a certain theme that pertains to human nature and life. In his works, The Scarlet Letter and "The Minister's Black Veil", Hawthorne uses symbolism to present a common theme pertaining to religion; that though manifested sin will ostracize a person from society, un-confessed sin will destroy the soul.
The central theme in The Scarlet Letter is that manifested sin will ostracize one from society and un-confessed sin will lead to the destruction of the inner spirit. Hawthorne uses the symbol of the scarlet letter to bring out this idea. In the novel, Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter A (the symbol of her sin) because she committed adultery with the clergyman, Dimmesdale. Because the public's knowledge of her sin, Hester is excluded physically, mentally, and socially from the normal society of the Puritan settlement. She lives on the outskirts of town in a small cottage where she makes her living as a seamstress. Though she is known to be a great sewer amongst the people, Hester is still not able to sew certain items, such as a new bride's veil. Hester also has no interaction with others; instead she is taunted, if not completely ignored, by all that pass her by. Despite the ill treatment of the society, Hester's soul is not corrupted. Instead, she flourishes and improves herself in spite of the burden of wearing the scarlet letter and she repeatedly defies the conventional Puritan thoughts and values by showing what appears to us as strength of character. Her good works, such as helping the less fortunate, strengthen her inner spirit, and eventually partially welcome her back to the society that once shunned her.
In contrast to Hester's flourishing through her confessed sin, Dimmesdale suffers through the non-confession of his sin that he holds secretly within him. He suffers total deterioration, both physical and mental due to his hiding of his adultery and not claiming Pearl as his daughter. He physically tortures himself and over a period of several years he becomes emaciated and weak. It is only when he announces to the public atop the same scaffold that Hester had to bear her shame seven years earlier, that he gains relief and frees himself from the sin that plagued him, which allows him to die peacefully.
In the short story, "The Minister's Black Veil," Nathaniel Hawthorne presents a similar theme to that of The Scarlet Letter through the usage of the black veil that the Reverend Mr. Hooper drapes across his face to hide his secret transgressions from the world. The veil the clergyman wears is voluntary punishment, in contrast to the scarlet letter that Hester was forced to wear, though it's consequences are similar for Reverend Hooper, as he becomes an outcast of society as well. Though everyone knows Hester's sin, no one can even find the courage to ask...