The Whiteness Of The Veil Essay

1497 words - 6 pages

Herman Melville famously spent an entire chapter in his novel Moby Dick (1851) pondering whiteness. While it would certainly be faulty to suggest that Hawthorne’s text is directly linked to Melville’s, the chapter on “The Whiteness of the Whale” may add some additional aspects to the meaning of the color white. Ishmael admits that the whale provokes a “nameless horror” in him and that it “the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled [him]” (Melville 163). Throughout the text, it becomes obvious that whiteness has an “elusive quality” (Melville 164). Whiteness enhances beauty and nobility. It is associated with justice and divinity, as well as wisdom and knowledge of things. It ...view middle of the document...

Armand 31) and also a Gothic tale. Zenobia’s legend bears a strong resemblance to issues addressed in “The Minister’s Black Veil”. Just like Father Hooper’s potential wife-to-be refuses to marry him without being allowed a look behind the veil, Theodore approaches the Veiled Lady “not in holy faith” but in “scornful scepticism and idle curiosity” (Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance 113). Veils are impenetrable and consequently, the look beneath the veil has a compelling quality. In both stories, the veil becomes the place of “voided expectation” as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick puts it (Sedgwick 147). Barton Levi St. Armand calls The Blithedale Romance and Zenobia’s legend in particular a “cautionary tale about the dilemma of knowing” (32).
“…it was the head of a skeleton; it was a monstrous visage, with snaky locks, like Medusa's, and one great red eye in the centre of the forehead. Again, it was affirmed that there was no single and unchangeable set of features beneath the veil; but that whosoever should be bold enough to lift it would behold the features of that person, in all the world, who was destined to be his fate; perhaps he would be greeted by the tender smile of the woman whom he loved, or, quite as probably, the deadly scowl of his bitterest enemy would throw a blight over his life.” (Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance 110)
In this passage, the “dark ambiguity of the symbol” (St. Armand 32) is literalized. It also shows that the whiteness of the veil allows for highly contradictory interpretations unlike the black veil. It may conceal beauty and monstrosity, youth and decay, as well as good or bad fortune equally. There can never be any definite answer as to what will be found once the veil is lifted. Its mutability prevents definite knowledge. It appears as if the secret depends on the way with which its unveiling is approached.
Both the veil and the veiled provide further insight into the nature of identity. One of the first impressions Coverdale has of Priscilla is that of an “unsubstantial girl” (Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance 26). In accordance with this theme, the veiled lady is described as having the “texture of a summer cloud” (Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance 200). She may reflect light from other sources, but has none of her own. “Had all her existence been comprehended within that mysterious veil and was she now annihilated?” (Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance 114) Must to behold “the Absolute” (Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance 201) be understood as beyond being – as a transgression into not being? As has been noted, Priscilla’s existence is hardly defined at all. If “all her existence” is, in fact, “comprehended within that mysterious veil” she vanishes, like the lady in Zenobia’s tale, once the veil is removed. Her new point of social reference is her marriage to Hollingsworth. Bill Christophersen points out that “Hawthorne’s language … suggests that Priscilla merely exchanges masters” (Behind the white Veil 87). Furthermore, Hollingsworth’s...

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