“The Minister’s Black Veil” - Conflict, Climax and Resolution
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” will be examined in order to determine the conflicts in the tale, the climax and resolution.
The conflict involving evil and sin, pride and humility is the direction that Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” tends: “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. This evaluation seems to reflect Swisher’s first two considerations of evil and sin, and implicitly reflect the “conflict between pride and humility.” 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).
Other literary opinions include morality, evil, guilt in their assessments of the conflicts within Hawthorne’s short stories. Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” states: “What he wrote of . . . . unforgettable case histories of men and women afflicted by guilt, or, as he called it, by “a stain upon the soul” (43). Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty and E. Hudson Long in “The Social Criticism of a Public Man” state: “He was absorbed by the enigmas of evil and of moral responsibility” (47). Gloria C. Erlich in “The Divided Artist and His Uncles” says that “he let his more extravagant characters test the unlimited for him and sadly concluded that it was unlivable” (38).
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 hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath” is a black veil. The 30 year old, unmarried parson receives a variety of reactions from his congregation:
``I can't really feel as if good Mr. Hooper's face was behind that piece of crape''
``He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face''
``Our parson has gone mad!''
Few could refrain from twisting their heads towards the door. . . .
. . ....