“The Minister’s Black Veil” - Characterization
This essay will demonstrate the types of characters present in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” whether static or dynamic, whether flat or round, and whether portrayed through showing or telling.
R. W. B. Lewis in “The Return into Rime: Hawthorne” states: “… there is always more to the world in which Hawthorne’s characters move than any one of them can see at a glance” (77). This is especially true with such flat or two-dimensional characters as are generally found in “The Minister’s BlackVeil.” These type characters are built on a “single idea or quality” and are presented without much “individualizing detail” (Abrams 33). The sexton, Elizabeth, Goodman, the visiting divine, the nurse, etc. serve as foils to Mr. Hooper.
There is only one well-developed, or three dimensional character, in this short story, and he is the protagonist, Reverend Mr. Hooper. At the outset of the tale, the sexton, a flat or type character, 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 that “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 garners 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. . . .
. . . more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the
Commenting on the realism of Hawthorne’s characters, literary critic A. N. Kaul says: “A deeply ‘American’ writer, Hawthorne is also a peculiarly ‘modern’ writer. It is true that often he deliberately, even perversely, shrouds his narratives in a sort of nameless, dateless archaism, and delights too in calling up figures that seem to belong anywhere but in the real world” (1). Hawthorne, after exposing the surprised people to the sable veil, develops the protagonist through a description of some of his less exotic, less curious characteristics:
Mr. Hooper had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: he strove to win his people heavenward by mild, persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither by the thunders of the Word. The sermon which he now
delivered was marked by the same characteristics of style and manner as the general series of his pulpit oratory.
However, on this first day of wearing his black veil there is some peculiar difference in Hooper’s sermon: