Theme and Symbolism in “The Minister’s Black Veil”

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Symbolism in The Minister's Black Veil

Example



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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Ideas to Discuss

Sin and Secrets

One theme found in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is sin and secrets. The Puritan community in particular is concerned with how their sins will impact their chances for getting into Heaven. Their fear of sin leads them to label many pleasures as sinful. However, in their quest to eradicate sin, many members of the Puritan community lead hypocritical lives; others committed sin in order to protect the community (like the judges in the Salem Witch Trials). It is the fear of their deepest, darkest secret sins being found out that leads members of Mr. Hooper’s community to shun him, as they see their transgressions reflected in the veil that covers his face. They realize that it is much like the metaphorical veils they wear over their daily lives, in order to hide their sins.


Guilt

Another theme found in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is guilt. The secret sins that the people of the community hide brings them a sense of shame, arising from their guilt of having committed these sins. Mr. Hooper, in particular, seems to be trying to atone for a sin he has committed, and sees the veil as appropriate punishment for whatever it is he did. Some have theorized that Mr. Hooper is trying to atone for Original Sin, which gives root to all other sins. As the townspeople watch Mr. Hooper live with the veil for his remaining days, they are reminded that they may not have yet atoned for the sins they’ve committed, and they feel guilt and fear at his approaching silhouette on the street.


Isolation

An additional theme found in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is isolation. Mr. Hooper’s willingness to "wear his sin on his sleeve" (or face, if you will), leads him to be ostracized by the members of his community who once embraced him. He is no longer invited to dinner, people do not want to walk next to him or talk with him for very long, and his fiancee leaves him. The only people who do want to speak at length to him are those who believe they are under the veil with him - the sinners of the community, the tormented of conscience, and the dying. This leads to a life of isolation for Mr. Hooper, who is sad and frightened by his circumstances. As he dies, he tells those in the room to stop being so afraid of him and to look at each other - everyone wears a black veil. They are all covered by their sins, their guilt, and their secrecy. Perhaps if more people had figured that out, they would not have shut Mr. Hooper out.



Motifs & Symbols to Look For

The Black Veil

The symbol in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is, of course, the black veil. Made of a fabric typically worn at a funeral, the black veil covers all of Mr. Hooper’s face except for his mouth and chin. While people can still see his faint smiles, they fear the veil and what it means. Allegorically, the veil is a symbol of the sin that separates people from God, and from each other. Since every person sins, every person is separated from perfection by the guilt and secrecy of their own veiled sins. Hooper’s veil gave the Puritans the opportunity for a scapegoat to fear, rather than deal with their own inherent sinful natures.



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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard depicting important themes, symbols, and motifs in the story.

  1. Use the template provided by your teacher.
  2. Identify important themes, symbols, and motifs.
  3. Describe how the theme, symbol, or motif is important to the story.
  4. Illustrate each example with appropriate images, scenes, characters, and items.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.
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