Classic Horror

Classic Horror: The Ministers Black Veil

What’s your Secret Sin?

Today I am writing to you about an underrated piece of classic horror. The Ministers Black Veil is a short story that was written by Nathaniel Hawthorn in the 1800s. It was published in 1836 in a magazine and was republished the following year in a collection of short stories by Hawthorn. 


The story starts with the sexton (chap in charge of the maintenance of church buildings) ringing a bell. The reverend arrives and greets his congregation, but all are surprised to see him wearing a veil, which obscures all of his face save for his mouth and chin. Naturally people begin to speculate, while the Reverend gives his sermon on secret sin, his tone being darker than usual. The congregation grow concerned about their own secret sins.

There is then a funeral for a young woman, it is noted that the veil feels more appropriate here. The reverend also comments that he would be fearful of people gaze should he not wear the veil and after the funeral people say that for a moment it was as if the reverend’s spirit and that of the dead girl were walking hand in hand. 

The next event is a wedding, and the reverend is still wearing the veil which makes the wedding rather gloomy. 

Even children start noticing the strange atmosphere that the reverend is causing, though no one seems capable of asking about the veil. That is except for his fiancée, who tries to get him to take the damned thing off. The reverend wont take it off or tell her why he is wearing it. This causes the relationship to end. 

However, while wearing the veil the reverend’s congregation grows as people who feel they too are behind the veil join the group. Dying sinners call out for the reverend. He is even promoted to Father. He wears the veil until he dies.

“All through life the black veil had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman’s love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart; and still it lay upon his face, as if to deepen the gloom of his dark-some chamber, and shade him from the sunshine of eternity”.

As he dies he tells people that we all wear black veils. 

My Thoughts – General 

Photo by Lisa on

I liked this little story, though I often struggle to put my finger on why. 

I am interested by the possibility of this being inspired by a true event. A priest accidently caused his friends death and spent the rest of his life wearing a veil. I like the idea that Hawthorn sat at his desk and tried to get into that priest’s head, and this was what he came up with. 

My thoughts – Characters 

Photo by Shelagh Murphy on

Character wise there’s not a lot to say. Everyone is a static flat character. The story isn’t really about the people it’s more about the event, the characters simply serve as a means of delivery for the story. The real thing here is the mystery, why is the rev doing this?

Though a lot of the stories focus is on the congregation and their hostile reaction to the veil, the congregation isn’t made up of individual character’s is more like an amorphous blob serving a purpose. 

My Thoughts – Setting 

Photo by Brett Sayles on

Like a lot of Hawthorns work the setting is a small puritan town in New England. 

My Thoughts – Plot 

The plot is well structured, considering the nature of the short. It’s evenly paced and suspenseful in that we are teased by the thought that the reverend may admit fully why he is wearing the veil. 

I didn’t find the plot to be predictable, the first time I read this story I honestly expected there to be a great reveal towards the end explaining why the reverend was wearing the veil, but the story was subtler than I was expecting it to be. 

My Thoughts – Theme

Photo by Donald Tong on

The themes used in this story are sin, repentance, and morality. Hidden sin and underlying guilt, with the veil being used as a way for the reverend to wear his sin in a visible way, effectively hiding behind it, reducing himself to nothing but the sin, he effectively takes away his own identity, hiding behind the veil. 

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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