Ideology in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil Essay

Ideology in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil Essay

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Ideology in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil


Bennett and Royle in their textbook, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, define ideology as representing “… ‘the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’” (161). The ideology of self, of personal identity, is represented by a person’s perception of what is acceptable in their society. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, The Minister’s Black Veil, the minister appears before his community with a black veil covering his face. He gives no explanation for this apparel and the community becomes agitated that their minister refuses to remove it. The readers challenge is to discover why the minister wears the veil and why he won’t take it off. Hawthorne challenges the readers ideology of self with his choice of words, by showing how ideology is redefined by each subject, and by using as his form the technique of the parable.

The parishioners expectations are shattered by the appearance of their beloved minister wearing a black veil over his face.

Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked in graver gait, in the conscious dignity of their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked sidelong at the pretty maidens, and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on weekdays (Hawthorne 1)

These expectations are portrayed by the way the story begins. Hawthorne uses words that suggest happiness; “bright” “merrily” “pretty” “fancied” and “sunshine”. But this ‘happiness’ vanishes with the appearance of the minister. The expectations of what is socially acceptable are challenged by the appearance of the black veil.

“But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?” c...


... middle of paper ...


...o understand the parable. A parable is used to explain something that is unexplainable and cannot be explained if the reader does not understand it. The reader is in constant danger throughout the reading of having his ideology of self shattered by the very real possibility that he won’t ‘get it’. The entire story is as obscure and shaky as ideology itself. Hawthorne’s choice of words throughout the story set up the reader for a continual bombardment of his/her ideology of self and societal expectations.

Works Cited

Bennett, Andrew and Nicholas Royle. Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. 2nd Edition. New York: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil”. Crown College. Accessed 27 Aug 2003. http://www.crown.edu/humanities/ratledgw/ENG%20132/stories/ veilhawt.htm>

Miriam Webster Dictionary. Accessed 27 Aug 2003.

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