External, Internal Conflict of “The Minister’s Black Veil”
Hugo McPherson in “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology” comments on the “reason and passion” conflict which he sees in this writer: “Those who read him as a Christian moralist recognize instantly an opposition between Head and Heart, reason and passion which is related not only to Puritan theology but to the Neo-Classical view of man….” (69). Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” contains both an external and an internal conflict, which this essay will explore.
Literary critics mostly agree that Hawthorne’s stories manifest strong interior conflicts within the main character(s). Peter Conn in “Finding a Voice in an New Nation” comments on Hawthorne’s internal conflicts in his tales: “His most typical stories are darkly lyrical meditations on the devastating consequences that follow when love is withdrawn, whether because of egotism or prejudice or a failure of sexual nerve” (81).
R. W. B. Lewis in “The Return into Rime: Hawthorne” implies internal and external conflict in his statement: “Finally, it was Hawthorne who saw in American experience the re-creation of the story of Adam and who . . . exploited the active metaphor of the American as Adam – before and during and after the Fall” (72). Q. D. Leavis says regarding internal conflict: the journey each must take alone, in dread, at night, is the journey away from home and the community, from conscious, everyday social life, to the wilderness where the hidden self satisfies, or is forced to realize, its subconscious fears. . . .” (36). Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” states: Hawthorne himself was preoccupied with the problems of evil, the nature of sin, the conflict between pride and humility”(13).
In the opinion of this reader, the central conflicts – the relation between the protagonist and antagonist (Abrams 225) - in the tale are an internal one, a spiritual-moral conflict within the minister, the Reverend Mr. Hooper, and an external one with the world at large represented by the congregation. Wilson Sullivan in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” tells where the author got the idea of a conflict between good and evil:
He looked back, deeply back into America’s Puritan past, the era of the New England theocracy, when the conflict of good and evil, freedom and tyranny, love and hatred was more explicit, more rigidly defined, free of the ambiguities of an increasingly pluralistic society, governed by a shared morality (70).
At the outset of the tale, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” the sexton is tolling the church bell and simultaneously watching Mr. Hooper’s door, when suddenly he says, ``But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?'' The surprise which the sexton displayed is repeated in the astonishment of the onlookers: “With one accord they started, expressing more wonder. . .” The reason is this: “Swathed about his forehead, and...