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The Theme in The Minister’s Black Veil

Powerful Essays
The Theme in “The Minister’s Black Veil”

Morse Peckham in “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism” explains what he interprets Hawthorne’s main theme to be in his short stories:

This technique, though Hawthorne’s is different from that of European writers, creates analogies between self and not-self, between personality and the worlds. . . .Henceforth Hawthorne’s theme is the redemption of the self through the acceptance and exploitation of what society terms the guilt of the individual but which to the Romantic is society’s guilt (92).

The interplay between the guilt of the individual, Reverend Mr. Hooper, and society’s guilt, underlies all of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” from beginning to end. In fact, the parson’s final words emphasize this fact: “I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!''

But is guilt the main theme? Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” states: ”When Hawthorne called his stories ‘romances,’ he meant that they belong within the romantic movement that . . . . emphasize imagination and personal freedom” (18). In this tale where does this “personal freedom” lead. It leads to a Puritan parson masking his face with crape., which, in turn, leads to his alienation by the parishioners. Is this the more dominant theme?

The theme is the “general concept or doctrine, whether implicit or asserted, which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader” (Abrams 170). In this tale the dominanat theme is to this reader one man’s alienation from society. Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:

Alienation is perhaps the theme he handles with greatest power....

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...Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Peckham, Morse. “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Sullivan, Wilson. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In New England Men of Letters. New York: Macmillan Co., 1972.

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

Waggoner, Hyatt. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Six American Novelists of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Richard Foster. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968.

Williams, Stanley T. “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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