When taking a look at America’s short but significant history, we find that this nation was partly founded through religious ideals. Since its beginning, religion has helped to define the American Identity into what it is today. And this was explored throughout American literature especially in the Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil and Young Goodman Brown. Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil is a parable, suggests his purpose for writing. According to Webster’s dictionary, a parable is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.
This is exactly what Hawthorne is trying to accomplish. The black veil that Pastor Hooper wears causes confusion and creates fear within his congregation, “But that piece of crape, to their imagination, seemed to hang down before his heart, the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them” (1315). Hawthorne’s purpose here is to use the black veil as a symbol of the sin that lies between every human and their relationships, whether it be with God or others.
For example, Hawthorne writes, “The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them” (1313). This means that we all have our own sin, regardless of the extremity of it, and God knows about all of it because he can see everything that everyone has done wrong. People hide their sin from others, and hide behind a mask that is better than who they truly are.
Hooper refuses to reveal his face until he leaves this world, knowing himself that his purpose is only to symbolize the wrongs of all humankind, “It is but a mortal veil – it is not for eternity! ” (1317). Finally, on his death bed, Pastor Hooper reveals his purpose, “Why do you tremble at me alone? Tremble also at each other! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil! ” (1320). Here he expresses that everyone wears a black veil, even if it may not consist of material. Every mortal on Earth is a sinner, which prevents them from being pure.
Therefore, Hawthorne is saying that people need to look at themselves, to see the sin in their own lives and the things that cloud the way in which they view the world which has helped shape society into what it is today. A similar theme can be found in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. While Goodman Brown saw his own sin, through his experience in the woods and the ceremony, he saw the sin of all the other people in his town. Both of these stories deal with hidden sin and the strain and sorrow it can cause.
Both characters, Brown and Hooper, lived sad and sorrowful lives, with knowledge that their fellow community members lived in as much sin as they did themselves. Young Goodman Brown, as a staunch Calvinist, is seen at the beginning of this allegory to be quite confident that he is going to heaven. The errand on which he is going is presented mysteriously and is usually interpreted to be a deliberate quest of sin. This may or may not be true; what is important is that he is going out to meet the devil by prearrangement. We are told by the narrator that his purpose in going is evil.
At the end of his journey, Young Goodman Brown did not lose his faith (we are even told that his Faith survived him); he learned its full and terrible significance. This story is Hawthorne’s criticism of the teachings of Puritanic-Calvinism. His implication is that the doctrine of the elect and damned is not a faith which carries man heavenward on its skirts, as Brown once believed, but, instead, condemns him to hell—bad and good alike indiscriminately—and for all intents and purposes so few escape as to make one man’s chance of salvation almost disappear.
It is this awakening to the full meaning of his faith which causes Young Goodman Brown to look upon his minister as a blasphemer when he teaches “the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable” (1298), for he has learned that according to the truths of his faith there is probably nothing but “misery unutterable” in store for him and all his congregation; it is this awakening which causes him to turn away from prayer; it is this awakening which makes appropriate the fact that “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone. After analyzing both stories, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hawthorne is really taking a stab at American identity in general. Though much is made of the influence of Puritanism on the writings of Hawthorne, he must also be seen to be a critic of the teachings of Puritanism. Perhaps he is pointing out some major flaws in American society, or perhaps at our past.
For example, in our society, many people are self-righteous and quick to judge, despite the fact that they too have their own sins, just as Goodman Brown discovered everyone in his community were sinners, and Pastor Hooper hid behind his “black veil. ” Many people, on a daily basis, hide behind their own veil, as Hooper states on his death-bed. Actions and sin during the week does not mean that getting up on Sunday morning can erase the past or get rid of the mask that so many wear.
I feel that this is Hawthorne’s purpose for writing, and he really wants us to look past this and realize that we are all sinners, not that we are all evil, but that not one of us is better or worse than the next. We each have our own mistakes and should not be so quick to judge others. Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathanial. “Young Goodman Brown. ” The Norton Anthology American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. 1289-1298. Hawthorne, Nathanial. “The Minister’s Black Veil. ” The Norton Anthology American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. 1311-1320.