The Minister’s Black Veil– External, Internal Conflict

2818 words - 11 pages

“The Minister’s Black Veil”– External, Internal Conflict          

 
   Based on the evaluations of literary critics, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” contains both an external and an internal conflict, about equally treated in the tale. It is the intent of this essay to explore both types of conflict as presented in the story.

 

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 confllict: 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 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. . . .

. . . more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the

meeting-house.

 

At this point begins the external conflict of the drama – between the minister...

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