Born in Salem, Mass, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of a judge in the Salem witch trials. He spent a solitary, bookish childhood with his widowed and antisocial mother. After graduating from Bowdoin College, he returned to Salem and prepared for a writing career with 12 years of solitary study and writing interrupted by summer tours through the Northeast. After privately publishing a novel, Fanshawe in 1828, he began publishing stories in the Token and New England Magazine. These original allegories of New England Puritanism, including such classic stories as “The Minister’s Black Veil,” were collected in, Twice-Told Tales, published in 1837.
A brief period of paid employment, including the compilation of popular children’s works and a stint at the Boston Custom House from 1839-to 1841, was followed by a half-year’s residence at the transcendentalist community, Brook Farm. In 1842 he married Sophia Amelia Peabody, also a transcendentalist, and they moved to Concord, Mass., where he began a friendship with Henry David Thoreau. Financial problems forced his return to Salem from 1845 to 1849, where he secured another political appointment, this time as surveyor of the port of Salem.
During these years he continued to publish Puritan tales such as, “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Birthmark”; collections of his stories included Mosses from an Old Manse published in 1846 and The Snow Image published in1851. His dismissal from the surveyorship initiated the brief period of his greatest novels: The Scarlet Letter in 1850, The House of the Seven Gables in 1851, and The Blithdale Romance in 1852. He also wrote two children’s classics: A Wonder-Book in 1852 and Tanglewood Tales in 1853.
His campaign biography of Franklin Pierce in 1852 was rewarded with the U.S. counsulship at Liverpool 1853 to 1858. He then went to live in Italy in 1858 to 1859, where he began The Marble Faun, which he published after returning to the United States in 1860. Back in Concord, he published his last major work, Our Old Home in 1863, which drew on his experiences in England, but by then he was becoming ill and disillusioned.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an average man who saw things, not necessarily in a different way, but in a different light. He was able to use this ability and transform it onto paper. He would begin to write and slowly but almost definitely become emotionally involved by the end of the novel or short story. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a great write because he used his emotional charge and his brilliant creativity to construct many novels and stories that be read for centuries to come.
The Minister’s Black Veil, is one of Hawthorne’s more famous short stories. First appearing in Token and New England Magazine, this story was like many others published from 1828 to 1837. It is a short novel consisting of 13 pages, involving New England Puritanism. Hawthorne uses minor characters to surround the very complex protagonist, Reverend Hooper.
This short story starts off on a sunny day in a small New England church. The sexton is ringing his bell, notifying everyone that church is going to begin. Everything is calm and normal until the Reverend appears. Everyone in the church is totally thrown by the black veil that he has around his face. He is wearing his usual church outfit but his face is entirely covered except for his eyes.
“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.”
The Reverend usually does not do any outlandish things so the people are thrown. Hawthorne goes on to describe the veil and the reverend in a very detailed description of the reverend and how he looks wearing the black veil. He notes that, all of the people are disgusted by the veil, and many people even got up and left the meetinghouse.
“Such was the effect of this simple piece of crape, that more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the meeting-house.”
The story continued with Hawthorne describing every detail that went on inside the town. He gave the reactions and opinions of many of the characters without using much dialogue. The bulk of the story comes up when he speaks to the only woman in town who goes right up to him and asks him why he is wearing the veil. He does not over-react or get mad; he just has a nice calm talk with her and explains why he is wearing the veil. He says that,
“If I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enough,” he merely replied; “and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?”
This statement sums up his reason for wearing the veil. Perhaps he had committed some evil crime, or done something very awful. He says he is hiding his face because of some “secret sin”, which he cannot say. Although this short quote doesn’t look like much. It not only tells you why he is wearing the veil but also explains how religious and caring the reverend is. He goes on to live his life out, and finally dies. At the end of the story when he is dead and buried, Hawthorne uses his power to invoke the creativity of the reader. He says that although he had been dead for many years, his face was still underneath that awful black veil. This leaves the reader wondering what exactly Reverend Hooper did to force himself to wear the veil from that good sunny day, to the end of time.
Another one of Hawthorne’s more interesting stories is, “The Haunted Mind”. There are no characters, and has absolutely no dialogue. There is somewhat of a plot to it but it cannot really be distinguished among the thoughts he writes down while making this story. This is a story that appears in the second volume of, Twice Told Tales, and was published in 1835 and 1842.
“The Haunted Mind”, is basically Hawthorne reflecting his opinion of dreams and dreaming, and putting it on paper. It is full of descriptive images and has many of his opinions worked into the story. In this short story he is not telling the story in the 1st person, but is telling it to the reader, by using, “you”, “your”, and “yourself”.
Hawthorne uses incredible descriptions such as this one to really get the reader thinking about dreams and dreaming.
“Such a frosty sky, and the snow covered roofs, and the long vista of the frozen street, all white, and the distant water hardened into rock, might make you shiver, even under four blankets and a woolen comforter.”
He does this many times throughout the story and really digs deep to sum up his thoughts on this subject. Although Hawthorne doesn’t come right out and say it, he does reflect that if he had a chance to slip into a sleep where no one would grow older, he would.
“Time, when he thinks nobody is watching him, sits down by the way side to take breath. Oh, that he would fall asleep, and let mortals live on without growing older!”
Hawthorne is now getting older as he writes this story. He is realizing that soon his days will end and he is trying to find out some of the things he has never found out such as, why you dream, and what happens when you go to sleep. This story of Hawthorne differs greatly from, “The Minister’s Black Veil”, in that he does not tell a story about other people, he tells a story about himself and how he would like things to be.
Many younger people would not like reading Hawthorne’s works, but as people get older they begin to realize that he was a very smart man. If you read his stories you not only learn a lot but you are filled with wonderful images that you will not soon forget. Hawthorne is truly on of the great authors of all time and his stories will continue to be read in many years to come.
1) Colacurcio, Michael. Nathaniel Hawthorne Selected Tales and Sketches; New York: Penguin Books, 1987
***** I used this book for both short stories which were-The Ministers Black Veil (104-125), and The Haunted Mind (185-215)*****
2) “Http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/mbv.html”.The Minister’s Black Veil, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1836
3) “Http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/nhd.html#1804 “.The Haunted Mind, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835, 1842