The Whiteness Of The Veil: Color And The Veil In Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil And The Blithedale Romance

2045 words - 9 pages

In his essay “Color, Light and Shadow in Hawthorne’s Fiction” Walter Blair approaches an interpretation of Hawthorne’s work through the author’s manipulation of color and light to produce symbolic meaning. Blair addresses “The Minister’s Black Veil” and notes the repeated emphasis on the blackness of Father Hooper’s veil and the pallor as a reaction to it. “The design of this tale,” he asserts, “is one in which repeated patterns of light, then blackness, then whiteness meaningfully occur” (Blair 76). Similarly, Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance employs chiaroscuro for its characters, symbols and the veil motif in particular. Blair does not go further in his discussion of whiteness and blackness in “The Minister’s Black Veil” in relation to The Blithedale Romance. An analysis of the use of color, particularly regarding the veil symbol, in both texts can provide additional insights into Hawthorne’s often noted ambiguity.
Veils and the act of unveiling are popular literary tropes, particularly in Gothic fiction. They may be employed to address contrasting themes of knowledge vs. ignorance, the conscious vs. the unconscious, appearance vs. reality, obscurity vs. visibility, as well as the public vs. the private. In visual arts as well as in literature, the color black is associated with the satanic or the demonic. It is the opposite of light and life and represents loss. In addition, blackness may conceal a dark mystery. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” the color black changes the vision of the veiled. The black veil allows Father Hooper to see through it, yet it gives a “darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things” (Hawthorne, “Black Veil” 189). The view through the black veil serves as a “gloomy shade” (Hawthorne, “Black Veil”189). It is a medium that makes the world appear darker than it actually is and dampens its natural colors. Despite wearing the black veil, Father Hooper can still be identified, albeit not easily. Upon the first confrontation with the minister wearing his veil, a parishioner voices his uncertainty about the identity of Father Hooper and requires confirmation by the sexton. During his first sermon, the audience half expects that stranger to be hiding beneath the black veil. Even more than doubt about identity, the veil causes doubt about the state of the Father’s state of mind and provokes feelings of awe and terror. “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face,” one woman remarks (Hawthorne, “Black Veil” 190). The veil is a “fearful” sight and a “terrible thing”; it makes Father Hooper’s entire self appear “ghost-like” (Hawthorne, “Black Veil” 190-191). Hooper’s first appearance in front of the congregation has the quality of a public performance, not unlike that of the Veiled Lady in The Blithedale Romance. There is a “rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon” that precedes him and everyone is curious, eager to get a glimpse of the minister and his...

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