Essay on Ideology in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil

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Ideology in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil

Bennett and Royle in their textbook, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, define ideology as representing “… ‘the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’” (161). The ideology of self, of personal identity, is represented by a person’s perception of what is acceptable in their society. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, The Minister’s Black Veil, the minister appears before his community with a black veil covering his face. He gives no explanation for this apparel and the community becomes agitated that their minister refuses to remove it. The readers challenge is to discover why the minister wears the veil and why he
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Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way toward the meetinghouse. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if some strange minister were coming to dust the cushions of Mr. Hooper’s pulpit. “Are you sure it is our parson?” inquired Goodman Gray of the sexton. (Hawthorne 2-4)

Accepted ideology is an ideology that is in itself not real, it is illusory and mutable. When the illusion is challenged, the ideology of self is challenged. By using words that depict the illusory ideology of the parishioners, and perhaps also mirror the illusory ideology of the reader, Hawthorne reinforces the idea that “Ideology is constituted by images and fantasies” (Bennett & Royle 160). The sentences, “He has changed himself into something awful…” (Hawthorne 8) and “The black veil…throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him ghostlike” (Hawthorne 13) reinforce the illusory aspects of an established ideology. Bennett and Royle say, “To become human, to identify oneself as a subject, then, is an effect of ideology” (162). The parishioners cannot locate the minister beneath his veil as a subject—they can only locate the veil as subject. “The black veil, though it covers only our pastor’s face, throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him ghostlike…” (Hawthorne 14). The minister, the previously known subject, has become ‘ghostlike’, has vanished to another realm and the parishioners expectations and illusory ideology is upset. This reaffirms
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