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Teacher's Guide for "The Minister's Black Veil"

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/8/2012

Find creative inspiration on teaching "The Minister's Black Veil" to your students. Go over this summary and analysis, and teach the main themes of the short story.

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    Getting off to a Creative Start

    Mr. Hooper, a gentlemanly teacher, of about thirty, though still in his first year teaching, was dressed with due professorial neatness, as if a careful administrator had straightened his tie, and brushed the weekly chalk dust from his Friday's garb. There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil. On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things. With this gloomy shade before him, good Mr. Hooper walked into his classroom, at a slow and quiet pace, stooping somewhat to chastise two students making out in the corner and another one cheating on his homework, and looking on the chalk board, as is customary with teachers ready to quit, yet nodding kindly to those of his students who still listened to his boring lectures. But so wonder-struck were they that his greeting hardly met with a return.

    It was time to unveil Mr. Hooper's lesson plan on "The Minister's Black Veil", and these teaching ideas would be so good that students wouldn't need to resort to the internet to understand what was happening in the story.

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    Summary

    Reverend Hooper enters church with a mysterious black veil over his face, causing quite a stir among his parishioners. He delivers a sermon on secret sin and the things we hide from those closest to us, "even forgetting the Omniscient can detect them." After the meeting, the congregation discusses the minister's oddity, trying to interpret its meaning. The Reverend then presents a funeral sermon with his black veil still screening his face.

    Mr. Hooper was to conduct a wedding that evening and continued, to the disappointment of the newlyweds, to wear the veil. The entire town spoke of little else the next day. No one dare ask the minister to remove the veil or to explain its presence except for his fiancee. He claimed it was a sign of his sorrows and refused to remove it. That was the last attempt to remove the veil. The veil establishes a barrier between the reverend and all human sympathy, causing children to flee and others to peep behind gravestones to get a look at his face.

    He became a highly respected minister in New England, notwithstanding the black barrier. The Reverend Clark tries to persuade Hooper, on his death bed, to remove the veil. His reply: "Why do you tremble at me alone? Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!"

    The minister is buried, still wearing his veil.

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    Analysis

    "The Minister's Black Veil" incorporates many of the elements prevalent in Hawthorne's stories.

    1. Ambiguity - It's uncertain whether the Reverend Hooper is a better minister because of the veil or not. Nobody knows why he's wearing the veil or why he won't take it off. The ambiguity of the veil is symbolic of the duality of the human heart and soul, capable of both good and evil.
    2. Good and Evil - Reverend Hooper isn't the only Hawthorne minister who attempts to understand the wickedness within. Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter attempts to hide a grievous sin and pays a grievous price.
    3. Fascination with the Supernatural - The veil takes upon itself supernatural qualities, as does its wearer.

    Themes include:

    1. The Secrets of the Human Heart - Mr. Hooper's veil reminded his acquaintances of the evil that lurked inside of them, evils which they themselves may not have been aware.
    2. Alienation and Loneliness - A result of the veil is the alienation of the minister. Inside he's the same person, and no different from those around him, but the public symbol makes him a pariah.
    3. Hypocrisy - The Reverend Hooper points out on his death bed that the only difference between himself and them is that they hide their sins.
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    Teaching Ideas

    Use these activities to motivate and instruct.

    1. Make sure students are familiar with the tenets of American Romanticism. Here's an American Romanticism primer.
    2. For a day or two before reading "The Minister's Black Veil," wear a black veil. At first students will think it's a joke, so you must act normal. Conduct class as you normally would. Wear the black veil in the halls between classes. Don't tell anyone why you're wearing it (unless of course your administrator threatens to fire you).
      • Discuss with your class their reaction to you wearing the black veil: Did they talk about it outside of class? What reasons did they give for you wearing it?
      • If you're really twisted, put makeup on your face so when you remove the black veil, they'll be shocked.
      • Read the story.
    3. Another variation is to instruct students to wear a black veil or some other facial covering around school (get permission from the administration) and have them journal others' reaction to their face being covered.
    4. Try this lesson plan for teaching symbolism with the obvious symbol being the minister's veil.
    5. Creative Writing Assignment: Have students create a story that explains the reasons behind the minister's veil. Another option is to write a prequel to the story, examining what the minister's life was like before donning the veil.