Hawthorne's ancestor, Sewall's colleague Hathorne, had plainly felt no guilt at all. Hawthorne treats this fact of Puritan judicial-history directly in The House of the Seven Gables and indirectly in The Scarlet Letter. But in "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne deals with the psychology that is predicated of Puritan moral and social values, not only noting the effects of a tacit declaration of ambiguous guilt on the social life of Mr. Hooper but also chronicling the moral terror of a society that has, on constant view, a palpable challenge to its rigid moral modalities.
Schorer, Mark, Jewett, Arno, Walter Havighurst, and Kirschner, Allen, eds. American Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.
Undoubtedly, for example, Hawthorne was familiar with the diaries of one Samuel Sewall, who in 1697 confessed in a most public way, of the guilt he felt at having been one of the Salem witch trial judges:
But in the event, Mr. Hooper's reasons are less important than his behavior. The veil develops a symbolic power and life of its own. The historical fact that a Puritan man once veiled his face for well-known reasons might seem remarkable, but it can hardly be thought of as surprising. It might have been more surprising had no such eccentricity emerged from seventeenthcentury Puritan New England. Hawthorne's achievement in the story is to develop a subtext for the symbol that offers a moral challenge all the more troubling for the fact that Mr. Hooper never reveals his reasons to his society. The loose ends are not neatly tied up, as they might be in a universe governed by shoulds, oughts, rules, regulations, clarity (as the society believes) of moral virtue. In The Scarlet Letter, the village comes to understand Dimmesdale's torment, and it sees the letter emblazoned on the chest. "The Minister's Black Veil" is far more subtle about explaining its moral vision, yet nonetheless (or for that very reason) as powerful an indictment of restricti