Discussion: "The Minister's Black Veil" (1837)

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Reading Guide

Vocabulary:  vagary, parable, venerable, pathos, emblem, sagacious, prodigy, remonstrance, type, torpor

  1. Who is the narrator?
  2. Who is the first to notice Minister Hooper's transformation?
  3. What are the first reactions of the parishioners to his new appearance?
  4. Describe how the Sunday Service is transformed on that fateful morning when Reverend Hooper begins wearing the black veil?
  5. What is the subject of his sermon that morning?
  6. What does the superstitious woman swear happened at the funeral that afternoon when Rev. Hooper leans over the coffin to bid farewell to the deceased young lady?
  7. What effect does the veil have on the wedding ceremony?
  8. What terrifies Reverend Hooper as he toasts the newly weds at the wedding supper?
  9. What happens to the child who tries to dress up like Rev. Hooper, veil and all?
  10. What happens when the delegation of townsfolk meets with Rev. Hooper to ask him why he wears the veil?
  11. What vow has he taken?
  12. How does Elizabeth, his plighted wife, react when she grasps the meaning of the veil?
  13. How effective is Reverend Hooper's ministry during his long life?
  14. On his deathbed, what does Hooper say is the real reason why children ran from him and people shrank from him?
Paragraph:  What was Parson Hooper's motivation for taking his terrible vow?

Symbol as a Literary Device:

  • What makes this symbol so effective?
  • Look more closely at the impact Reverend Hooper's first sermon wearing the veil has on his parishioners. What is he trying to do?
  • At the funeral, Reverend Hooper says that he hopes the dead maiden, like all of us, will be ready for that hour when the veil is snatched from all of our faces. Which hour is he referring to?
  • Look more closely at the scene in which Elizabeth attempts to persuade Reverend Hooper to explain the reasons why he has chosen to wear the veil. What suddenly terrifies Elizabeth? How did she accomplish this unspoken understanding?
  • Does Hawthorne ever reveal to you the meaning of the veil? What hints does he use?
  • Read aloud the extraordinary final scene in the death chamber.
Evoking the Supernatural:
  • How does Hawthorne evoke the supernatural throughout this tale? Does he believe in ghosts?
  • How does evoking the supernatural serve his interest in human psychology?

The Veil as Symbol:

First Appearance:

Sermon on Secret Sin . 

The Funeral

The Wedding

The Next Day

The Deputation

His Plighted Wife

The Children


His Death Throes