roach Ministers Black Veil EssaysPsychoanalytical Approach to The Minister’s Black Veil
“All within hearing immediately turned about, and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards the meeting-house. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if some strange minister were coming to dust the cushions of Mr. Hooper’s pulpit” Working in the realm of the Gothic, Nathaniel Hawthorne hits upon psychological points that few of his readers are willing to explore. Of course, one may not be able to relate to an example involving such an “eccentric” display as Mr. Hooperas.
There is a sudden hush throughout the audience, followed by a rush of low whispering. He walks past them, oblivious to the goings-on and proceeds to the front. Something has changed, and everyone is aware. It is painfully obvious that he wanted everyone to know, for the wounds of the change were self-inflicted Putting the scenario this way helps to give an anonymous and general view to the former example. This method is used to show how realistic, even common, this somewhat absurd event may actually be. In a psychological analysis, this is a necessary element in both de-personalizing a situation and giving it potential for universal application. In Hawthorneas “The Ministeras Black Veil,” many interpretations by way of psychological analysis are possible, and, once exposed, quite apparent. Once revealed, there are many routes for understanding the story in a psychoanalytical context. The main approaches this essay will take involve a “Jungian” analysis, that is, one involving the use of some of the theories and conclusions of German psychoanalyst and pioneer, Carl Gustav Jung, a former student and friend of Sigmund Freud, in interpreting the actions of the characters in the story. Jungas discord with Freud came when he realized that Freudas theories involved too many concrete “solutions” to ambiguous problems. Jung began to assert the importance of myth, including findings that myths from around the world seemed to have certain common elements although completely isolated and uninfluenced by one another. Seeing that these similarities were in large number Jung began to apply them to his theories.
The more popular of the theories include the concept of the archetype, the anima and the animus. The theory that best suits the style of Hawthorneas Gothic is that of conflict, both internal and external. Jungas approach to conflict involved the many internal conflicts between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. Jung saw these similarities often led to similarities in the psychologies of the different cultures. The conflict between the conscious and the unconscious is a basic premise of this realm of thought. Jung supposed that the unconscious was always “yearning” to become a part of the conscious mind. Assuming this is true, repressed memories, thoughts or tendencies are always trying to surface into the conscious mind.
This is what Jung proposed was the main element in the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. With this it is possible to ask questions about Minister Hooperas intent. Assuming that repression is the driving force behind his actions, it is safe to presume he is hiding something. The “something” in this case is not the most important part, until conclusion takes place, of this particular part of the analysis. Was Mr. Hooper hiding this thing from himself or from the public? “The subject of his sermon 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” Mr. Hooperas relating of his speech to inner battle is indicative of a repressed memory trying to surface. The moment that he sees his own countenance, at the wedding, in the glass of wine shows how horrible the surfacing of this “thing” can be. This part of the story gives that the minister was hoping to hide his secret from himself, as well as from all. Most psychologists will concur in that repression is a defense mechanism to guard against many things ranging from a traumatic experience such as the death of a loved one to Freudas infamous Oedipus complex. If a defense mechanism, Hooperas repression would be a sign of something traumatic, judging from his reaction in the wedding scene. His choice to wear the veil for the rest of his life is but another sign of this escape from the truth. With this, Hooper is not only pushing this secret into his unconscious, but his public self as well. “This dismal shade must separate me from the world” If not an escape from the truth, Hooperas veil is a reminder to himself of his secret. It is obvious that one would not forget something like an object covering oneas face. “In truth, his own antipathy to the veil was known to be so great, that he never willingly passed before a mirror, nor stooped to drink at a still fountain, lest, in its peaceful bosom, he should be affrighted by himself.” The veil then becomes the string tied to Mr. Hooperas finger.
This is along the lines of Freudas “symptom as self-punishment” supposition (Monte. 46-52). In this, Freud states that the neurosis itself is a symptom of another problem, perhaps a repressed thought, tendency, or memory. Mr. Hooperas choice had well-known repercussions. The veil would alienate him from the public that once loved him so much, and, eventually, his beloved wife. This painful process could have been easily avoided with the removal of the veil, but Hooper refused because of his desire for this type of self-punishment. Self-reproach is a common way for people to retain some sort of modesty and a level of humility.
The battle between the introverted and extraverted parts of the personality is another conflict worth some attention. Jung gave definitive answers as to the self-given purposes of the lives of the two types. “The subjective, reflective, inwardly-oriented introvert finds purpose in life by integrating the inner conflicts into a whole self; the action-oriented, outwardly directed extravert finds purpose in life by harmonizing the self with a social reality” (Monte. 97).Hooperas profession is that of an introvert leading a group in an extraverted manner. This behavior, if not properly checked and balanced, can be regressive. Jungas creation of the concept of introversion and extraversion was originally understood to be the difference between regression and progression. Regressive behavior was said to be one giving in to the introverted part of the personality. Progressive tendencies were said to be one giving in to the extraverted part (Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. 40-41). A proper balance must be attained between these two parts for a healthy psyche.
The ministeras conflict between his introverted and extraverted mind would have been difficult to balance at best. On the one hand, the introverted mode of a minister deep within his studies of the scripture is quite necessary for proper understanding. On the other hand, the extraverted side must convey his findings to the parishioners. In Minister Hooperas case, this conflict is won by the introverted part of his mind. This could benefit him in a spiritually healthy psychological mind. According to Jung, “the spiritual needs of humans are at least equally, if not more, potent than the basic biological needs, and these yearnings will be expressed differently in introverted and extraverted people” (Monte. 98). The extraverted minister will be of great help to the people of his church while the introverted minister will be of great help to himself. This is not to give a negative connotation to this interpretation of the Ministeras actions, for one must be at peace within to be of benefit to others. This sort of psychological self-deprivation is related to a spiritual asceticism of sorts. Minister Hooper denies himself worldly pleasure much like an ascetic would. There is a certain psychological awareness of this phenomenon, and Jung gives an assertion of its validity. “Even physical pain is a psychic image which I experience; my sense-impressions?for all that they force upon me a world of impenetrable objects occupying space?are psychic images, and these alone constitute my immediate experience, for they alone are the immediate objects of my consciousnessAll our knowledge consists of the stuff of the psyche which, because it alone is immediate, is superlatively real.” (Structure 353). Jungas assertion gives Hooper a sort of justification in his actions, because he has overcome the boundaries of worldly thought. This interpretation paints a heroic picture of Mr. Hooper, but would be unfair considering Hawthorneas treatment of the events of the story.
The author shows the gloomy side of Hooperas public and private life through the various workings of gossip within the work, a very invasive and inconvenient thing for anyone trying to understand things most persons would be unwilling to explore.Hooperas perturbation with his public is then understandable, because his actions are in accordance to the balancing of the conflict within. Jung says, “If I shift my concept of reality on to the plane of the psychethis puts an end to the conflict between mind and matter, spirit and nature, etc.” (353). The negative side to this process is the misunderstanding by others. People have been misunderstood countless numbers of times, but it is a very painful way to live an entire life, especially if one chooses to live among instead of away from others. This is related to the concept of “the sublime” within the Gothic of Hawthorne, even if Hooperas heroism is supposed. Hooper seems to be the reluctant hero, almost a Christ figure in that his self-sacrifice is what it takes for his community to realize their fault. Although painful, Hooper is willing to forgo comfort for his own inner peace (peace is a questionable term, considering the lack of knowledge of the intention of Hooperas actions). Jung placed great importance on a process that he called individuation. “Individuation denotes the process by which a person becomes a psychological unity or whole through conflict between theconscious and the unconscious” (Abstracts. 102). Hooperas conflict within his mind would then have been his way of gaining a psychological unity. The veil would then be an outward symbol of this process. “The desired goal of harmony between the conscious and the unconscious comes about through the process of individuation, an irrational life experience commonly expressed in symbols” (Abstracts. 102).In the example given by Jung, a patient of his finds herself through painting pictures that express a particular feeling when it occurs. The paintings eventually help to free her unconscious to express itself, when necessary, to the conscious mind. (Abstracts. 103-106). This builds a bridge of communication between conscious and unconscious. Hooperas ability to connect with his unconscious with the application of the veil is along the same lines. The neglected area of the psyche, in this case Hooperas unconscious, when given attention, sets in motion a series of processes within his mind. The processes include Hooper coming to terms with his secret, and, eventually, himself. The public is then left to fend for themselves in facing this same task. In the Puritan society, emphasis was placed upon the development of the town and church, leaving little room for the individual. Hooperas reaction with the veil places him on the outside of the mass. This can also be interpreted as his reaction against the community in which he lives. “Why do you tremble at me alone? Tremble also at each other! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”In this passage, Hooper finally says what has been wrong all along with the community. Their reaction, shrinking from one another, showed at least a public that has affirmed the existence of their own unconscious mind, and, those horrible (and not so horrible) things that are hidden away there. The treatment they had given him during the course of the story is not that of a community that looks for what is good, but for the negative in people. The gossiping, the rumors, and judging that occurs are all signs of a people that are not in contact with their own unconscious, and that are lacking the individuation that Hooper so obstinately maintains. Jung also asserted that the Protestant way of thinking led to a slew of psychoses. Jung believed that the gods and demigods within more ancient cultures were outward projections of unconscious nature, that they had their origin within the unconscious itself. “Since the Protestant Reformation rejected nearly all of the carefully constructed symbol structures, man has felt increasingly isolated and alone without his gods; at a loss to replenish his externalized symbols, he must turn to their sources in the unconsciousThese are archetypes susceptible to personification; the archetypes of transformation, which express the process of individuation itself, are manifested in situations.” (Abstracts. 91). Even in a rebellion against the status quo lie the signs of the process of individuation. Hooperas actions reflect the discord that one could possibly have with this denial of self and the unconscious. The “veils” that Hooper sees on the guises of the people surrounding his deathbed are the veils that they have created for themselves by this denial of the unconscious. What was Hooperas, or Hawthorneas for that matter, intention with the veil? There was, obviously, a message to the community in which he lived. Perhaps he found something that had been missing for ages. Perhaps he was unaware that his inner battleas manifestation was a message at all until his last words in the story. Hawthorneas message, though unclear, was a reaction not only to the current way of thinking in his time, but to his own unconsciousa shortcomings. Jungas theories, though they came a century later, seem to have captured the essence of Hawthorneas concerns. His conclusions, based on what all human cultures have in common, also find a home in the interpretive realm. There can only be speculation as to what Hooperas, or even Hawthorneas, intent was with this story. It is possible, though, with a psychological interpretation, to find a path to Hawthorneas message. A psychoanalytical view is only one of the many possible, and, in this writeras opinion, the most helpful avenues to analytical interpretation, especially when using the theories of Carl Jung, whose assertions not only help in the clinical aspect, but in the search for the common message in all of human literary (this includes oral) tradition. Hawthorneas Gothic shows, whether conscious or not, the underlying conflict that lies within the people of his time as well as the time in which each of his stories take place. It is with this that the key to understanding the self lies within the commonly untapped recesses of the unconscious, an uncomfortable and unnerving concept for everyone, particularly those that have many things to hide
o Jung, Carl Gustav. Abstracts of the Collected Works of Carl G. Jung. Rockville, Maryland. 1976.
o Jung, Carl G. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Tr. R. F. C. Hull. New York, NY. 1960
o Lauter, Paul, et al. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. New York, NY; Boston, Mass. 1998
roach Ministers Black Veil EssaysPsychoanalytical Approach to The Minister’s Black Veil