Characterization in The Minister’s Black Veil

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What types of characters are present in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,”? Static or dynamic, flat or round, portrayed through showing or telling? This essay will answer these questions.

In Leading American Novelists John Erskine says regarding Nathaniel Hawthorne’s characterization:

The Puritan character which Cooper failed to sympathize with, is the very subject of Hawthorne’s work; so that if he has limitations in comparison with the universal storytellers, like Scott or Balzac, the deficiency is not so much in the small amount of his product as in his inability to see life except as a Puritan world, from a Puritan standpoint; and the limitation is more clearly defined by his temperamental preoccupation with one aspect of the Puritan nature (179).

Erskine’s evaluation applies mostly aptly to the short story “The Minister’s Black Veil,” where the main character is himself a Puritan minister. 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. Hoop...

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Minister’s Black Veil.” Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.

Kaul, A.N. “Introduction.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Kazin, Alfred. Introduction. Selected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Fawcett Premier, 1966.

Lewis, R. W. B. “The Return into Time: Hawthorne.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

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