Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man

Michael Fong
Journal #12 William Apess
October 29. 2009

"By what you read, you may learn how deep your principles are. I should say they were skin-deep. I should not wonder if some of the most selfish and ignorant would spout a charge of their principles now and then at me. But I would ask: How are you to love your neighbors as yourself? Is it to cheat them? Is it to wrong them in anything? Now, to cheat them out of any of their rights is robbery. And I ask: Can you deny that you are not robbing the Indians daily, and many others?" (Apess 1057)

"Apess was singled out as the outside agitator responsible for misleading an otherwise well-contented group of Native Americans, and the white strategy focused on removing his influence." (Barry O'Connell - Native American Writers of the United States. Ed. Kenneth M. Roemer. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 175. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. From Literature Resource Center.)

In this excerpt from A Son of the Forest, Apess examines the hypocrisy of the white people; how they, while proclaiming themselves to be Christians, act without adhering to the Christian principles. He also criticizes how the white people view themselves as the "superior" race as opposed to other colored people.

"Kill the Indian, save the man." That was the slogan for the white people at that time, a slogan that justifies the assimilation and elimination of the Native Americans. Native Americans were viewed as uncivilized savages that needs to be taught. The overall consensus for the white people was that they were doing the Native Americans a favor. Apess was one of the lone fighters out there to try to preserve the Indian way of living and culture, and yet he was viewed as an "agitator" who causes panic and trouble out of nowhere. Is there a sadder fate for such a warrior of his race? Is it not shameful for the white people at that time to prescribe such a label on him, when the real wrongdoers and sinners were themselves?

Agess was not only fighting for the physical preservation of Native Americans. He wanted to preserve their culture, their way of living, which were both already on the precarious brink of total extinction due to the white people. This reminded me of Zitkala Sa and Sarah Winnemucca's autobiographies; both places tremendous emphasis on how the white people "kills" the Indian in spirit. Included in this journal entry is something I came across in a photography class. This is an old photo taken by a certain photographer; his job was to take photos of the Native Indians, especially young ones, before and after they attended school that the white people set up. True, they fashioned him into what a "gentleman" should look like, and yet such transformation is unbearable to watch. How much punishment and spiritual torture did this student endure before he was transformed into this appearance? He lost the use of his language, his native clothings, his touch with his culture and essence he became yet another victim of an evil machine designated to crush the Indian within every Native American. There is no Native American Problem, just as there is no Negro Problem. The only problem seems to lie solely with that of the white man.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rip Van Winkle

Michael Fong
Journal #11 Washington Irving
October 26, 2009

"Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can do nothing with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench, at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times 'before the war.' It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor. How that there had been a revolutionary war-that the country had thrown off the yoke of old England-and that, instead of being a subject of his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States." (Irving 964)

"'Irving is much over-rated', Poe wrote in 1838, 'and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation—between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer'. A critic for the New-York Mirror wrote: 'No man in the Republic of Letters has been more overrated than Mr. Washington Irving.'"

After spending twenty years in a deep slumber, Rip Van Winkle awakes to the realization that he had been asleep for two decades, instead of what he thought to be a mere night. He returns to the village, and is initially confused over the new surroundings. Eventually, he settles down once again, and gets used to the new America; at the same time he sheds off the notion that the country is still being ruled by a monarch.

It was last quarter, I think, when I mentioned that I once lived in an area in Hong Kong where there are trees growing around, and a big park near the neighborhood. Sadly, due to construction work and the expansion of transportation networks, the park, and ultimately the green wildlife began to disappear before my very eyes. While it may be very heart-rendering, the change never hit me in the face until I compared photos that I took in a similar location a few years before and after. Irving, in "Rip Van Winkle", is in essence doing the very same thing. By "abducting" a man from the time when Britain still ruled and then placing him in the beginning of the United States, he successfully captures the alienation and extreme shift in the structure of the government. For the people who went through this change personally, while they may be aware of such change, the fact that they were living in the moment makes a less impressive narrator than Rip, who missed entirely the whole changing process and only got to witness the start and end products.

Poe mentioned that Irving is overrated. Is he, though? True, he may be retelling a story that has already been created, but does that necessarily make Irving an overrated writer? Who else borrowed stories, reconstructed the elements, retold them, and eventually gained international and critical acclaim? None other than Shakespeare himself. The story of Romeo and Juliet, for instance, is another version of an earlier story written by another writer eighty years before Shakespeare came up with the play. It was not original. But for Irving to retell the story with such eloquent style and to make it resonate with the historical context at that time is in itself an art.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Resistance to Civil Government

Michael Fong
Journal #10 Henry David Thoreau
October 22, 2009

"I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward...A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, aye, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small moveable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?" (Thoreau 1858)

"In reading Henry Thoreau's Journal, I am very sensible of the vigor of his constitution. That oaken strength which I noted whenever he walked or worked or surveyed wood lots, the same unhesitating hand with which a field-laborer accosts a piece of work which I should shun as a waste of strength, Henry shows in his literary task. He has muscle, & ventures on & performs tasks which I am forced to decline. In reading him, I find the same thoughts, the same spirit that is in me, but he takes a step beyond, & illustrates by excellent images that which I should have conveyed in a sleepy generality. 'Tis as if I went into a gymnasium, & saw youths leap, climb, & swing with a force unapproachable, — though their feats are only continuations of my initial grapplings & jumps." (Ralph Waldo Emerson - Wikiquote)

In Thoreau's famous essay "Resistance to Civil Government", he not only refutes the practical use of the mode of the government at that time, but also condemns it as the primary source of obstruction to the overall well-being of the society and its people. He then questions the purpose of man within the context of the government, whether the man is really a man, or merely a puppet, a tool, used for the betterment of the system itself.

Emerson's description of Thoreau's iron-clad strength is clearly shown in Thoreau's writing as well. He is indeed the extension of Emerson's idea; or simply put, Thoreau's writing is Emerson's theories in live action. Emerson stresses the importance of non-conformity and establishing one as an individual, not a mere cog or bolt in existence within a machine. Although Thoreau did not go against the concept of society and being as one, he did however expresses distaste towards the blind obedience and faith towards the government. In doing so, he argues, man will be reduced to mere pawns that exist only to serve a purpose. Such mode of government therefore is, inherently, a failure.

One could not help but shudder to observe the society nowadays; when the United States, close to a hundred and sixty years from the first publication of Thoreau's essay, is still at the moment fighting a seemingly purposeless war in Iraq. A war that not many seem to understand, but at the same time a war in which many deem to have a darker agenda. While the casualties mount on and more and more soldiers are sent overseas, are they fighting a war as individuals who believe in the war, or are they "moveable forts" and "magazines"? The chilling parallels between something that is written more than a century later with the political situation now is uncanny. There may be an Emerson somewhere at the present moment, but the world needs another Thoreau to pave and lead the way concrete actions and unwavering beliefs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Philosopher of Modern Ages

Michael Fong
Journal #9 Ralph Waldo Emerson
October 20, 2009

"Man is timid and apologetic. He is no longer upright. He dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower, there is no more; in the leafless root, there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. There is no time to it. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time." (Emerson 1172)

"His aunt called it [Self-Reliance] a 'strange medley of atheism and false independence'." (Wikipedia)

Emerson speaks his mind in his essay "Self-Reliance"; here, he urges man to speak more freely of their own minds, and not merely quote past words of the wise. The present, he argues, should be the time that man should live in, instead of being restricted and inhibited by the past.

Emerson may very well be the perfect melting pot of classic as well as modern age philosophy. His incorporation of classic philosophy could be seen in his discussion of divine Providence earlier on. Shades of Boethius' "A Consolation of Philosophy" could easily be observed in his discussion; both in the aspect of the divine order of things as well as the place of man in the plans of Providence. His arguments also carry with them a flavor of Plato himself, as he discusses the nature of man in terms of his virtue, his actions, and his soul.

At the same time, Emerson celebrates the nature of inconsistency as well as innovation. I think this is a bold and daring thought upon his part. When have philosophers of the past ever contradicted their own words and alter through different modes of thinking as time goes? Emerson's argument that inconsistency should not be condemned, but rather, commended, is a breath of fresh air.

Is this a really a medley of atheism and self-independence though, as Emerson's aunt describes it? I would say that the Christian undertones are radically different in terms of nature, but in essence the same ideal of Christianity still prevails. Emerson rejects the notion of learning "dead" religion, rather he describes religion as an organic matter that is ever-evolving, and cannot be taught. He also acknowledges a certain form of higher power, and God serves constantly as a figure of power and stability in this essay. His stance of refuting conformity, could be seen in a way as self-independence, but from another perspective it could also be seen as him encouraging people to be unique and different, in order to elevate man to a whole new level of unity. I myself find the mental requirement to read Emerson comparable to that of reading the works of classic philosophers and thinkers, and certainly within the complex labyrinth of arguments that Emerson laid down there is still much more to dwell upon. He is without doubt, one of the best philosophers of modern ages.

Thoughts after class today:

First of all, I must clarify my personal stance in which I had not the chance to do so in class today because of the limited time frame. I am not, in any sense, endorsing the notion that Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" is entirely Boethian in nature. As Eduardo noted in class, I would say that it contains certain Boethian ideals, but it is not a complete imitation of the philosophy of Boethius. But then again, it also contained ideas reminiscent Plato, Confucius, and many others; at the same time, I agree that it too contains exclusively American ideals (this point itself cannot be refuted). I suppose the direction in which I conveyed to class today was that the Emerson borrowed his idea, or at least referred to it directly, from Boethius in his essay, which is not what I intended to express at all (probably that may account for the immediate excited conversation between Natalie and Eduardo at the other end of the classroom).

To say that Emerson's ideas and philosophies are directly linked to Boethius, or even the classics, is ignorant. What I intend to say, instead, is that Emerson may have reflected (most probably not to his intention) certain ideas and principles from a great many past authors, and at the same time incorporated such ideas into the writing of his own. The French writers, for instance,were an influence to him; would it be a stretch to claim that with the influence of the classics upon the Renaissance writers that Emerson subconsciously caught some of it as well? I suppose my point is that it is to some extent true to say what one writes reflect what one reads. To force a purely Boethian reading on Emerson is, as I have said, ridiculous; but to come up with cross interrelations between Emerson and the whole legion of writers, thinkers, and philosophers of the past provides, on the other hand, extremely valuable insights as well as inspirations.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Michael Fong
English 48A
Journal #8 Harriet Jacobs
October 15, 2009

"Why does the slave ever love? Why allow the tendrils of the heart to twine around objects which may at any moment be wrenched away by the hand of violence? When separations come by the hand of death, the pious soul can bow in resignation, and say, 'Not my will, but thine be done, O Lord!' But when the ruthless hand of man strikes the blow, regardless of the misery he causes, it is hard to be submissive. I did not reason thus when I was a young girl. Youth will be youth. I loved, and I indulged the hope that the dark clouds around me would turn out a bright lining. I forgot that in the land of my birth the shadows are too dense for light to penetrate." (Jacobs 1812)

"I have very little occasion to alter the language, which is wonderfully good..." (Lydia Maria Child on Harriet Jacobs)

Under the pseudonym Linda Brent, Jacobs recalls the early days of her slavery when she fell in love with a free born colored man. Although being deeply in love, at the same time she perceives the difficulty and the impracticability of such marriage between them due to her status as a slave. The dream of love and marriage never came true for her due to the tyrannical measures that Dr. Flint took against her.

Putting aside the physical hardships as well as torture that slaves had to go through, the mental torment in itself is already more than enough to drive one into a state of maddening despair. Slaves being treated as mere animals is evident in many autobiographical works of African Americans. Men are used as cattle to plow the fields, while women are paired up to "mate" with whomever the slave owner wishes to produce "offspring" to tend for his or her growing estate. The sheer outrageousness is frankly quite unbearable.

True, in terms of the literature Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is superbly written. True, the language, as Child puts it, is wonderfully good. Yet at the same time, while we, as modern readers, are blessed with such an eloquently written document that provides us with valuable insights of the past, I could not but ponder upon the saddening cause of such a piece of literature to be written. The words are not gushed upon paper due to the gentle urges and consolation of the Muse, nor are they inspired by divine intervention, nor are they the product of scenic surroundings; instead, they are the words spawned from the crack of cold, pitiless whips and empty stomachs. Is it not ironic and heart rending that beautiful literature has such despairing origins?

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Michael Fong
English 48A
Journal #7 Harriet Beecher Stowe
October 8, 2009

"A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after deer...Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap-impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it." (Stowe 1719)

"'Uncle Tom's Cabin' came from the heart rather than the head. It was an outburst of deep feeling, a cry in the darkness. The writer no more thought of style or literary excellence than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist. " - Charles Stowe in The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1889)

With Haley the slave trader hot in pursuit and finally discovering the location of Eliza, in an act of desperation she flings herself into the river and successfully crosses it with her baby by using the ice. The move separated Eliza from Haley. thus providing her with a temporary sanctuary on the other side of the river on the shore of the Ohio side.

The coldest of hearts would still surely have felt pangs of sorrow for Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin. To venture across thin ice in the face of death is virtually an impossible mission even for a single individual, let alone one carrying with her one of the most precious burden a woman ever could carry. The relation between prey and predator, the hunted and the hunter is extremely striking, and at the same time, bitter and depressing. Even to the normal hunter, to shoot a deer when its calf is by its side would surely strike a certain sense of guilt within the hunter. It could be seen that Haley, on top of obviously not regarding Eliza as a normal human being, also ignored the fact that she was a helpless parent with a child. To commit such act of violence requires much greed and evil to blind the eye; evidently slavery could have the means to drive an individual to such horrific ends.

Stowe, in my opinion, is one of the finest war photographers of slavery. Her words are snapshots of the state of slaves at that time, and she constantly places us again and again in the action, appealing to us, the readers, to join with her the escape of Eliza. We are asked to feel the tension and fear when Eliza runs away, the cold searing pain and blood when she crosses the river, and the despair and sorrow when she relates her sad past to Mr. and Mrs. Bird. It did came from the heart rather than the head, as Charles Stowe put it. There is no manipulative use of rhetoric, no secret underlying agenda, nothing but the stark naked truth of slavery staring at us right in the face. This is what made Uncle Tom's Cabin so powerful; it immortalizes the valiant struggle of slaves for freedom, and at the same time documents the painful history of America's past in which should not be forgotten.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Michael Fong
Journal #6 Frederick Douglass
October 13, 2009

"Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels...We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation." (Douglass 2125)

At one time Mr. Douglass was travelling in the state of Pennsylvania, and was forced, on account of his colour, to ride in the baggage-car, in spite of the fact that he had paid the same price for his passage that the other passengers had paid. When some of the white passengers went into the baggage-car to console Mr. Douglass, and one of them said to him: "I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner," Mr. Douglass straightened himself up on the box upon which he was sitting, and replied: "They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me..." (Booker T. Washington, Wikipedia)

Frederick Douglass notes in the appendix of his autobiography Narrative of the Life that he himself holds no grudge towards the religion Christianity itself. Rather, he detests his white masters in being hypocritical, and claims that they practice slaveholding religion. He then states the irony of the "Christian" white masters, thus showing the contradictions between the principles of the religion and the actions in which they were taking at that time against the slaves.

Religion has always been used as a powerful tool of control in history. Christianity, and the Bible in particular, are always molded to suit the intentions of invaders, aristocrats, or in the case of Douglass, slaveowners. The British practiced the very same thing during their period of colonization in the past, when they literally forced Indians to slavery while at the same time emphasizing a strong belief and adherence to Christianity. Douglass' experience speaks for itself: to break a slave both physical and mental tortures have to be put to use. It is brutal and at the same time pathetic to see how white slaveowners mutilate the intended good principles of Christianity in order to suit their evil deeds and doings.

"I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me." Was this what a majority of white people were doing at that time? In being hypocritical and cruel, but at the same time claiming themselves Christian, they degrade themselves as a result. It is the master, ironically, but not the slave, that was degraded. Sadly realization of such truth often proves to be slow in manifestation. Native Americans, the Aborigines, the cast a forlorn forecast on the future of mankind based on past histories could be said, in a way, logical. Douglass' statement is the universal truth and factual accusation to all of the groups of "masters" throughout history. Will the degradation ever cease? Will the masters get to realize their mistake that what they are doing is essentially dragging themselves in mud? The naive answer would be one could but only hope that such heinous acts of atrocities would not happen in the future. The answer based on reality, however, is much darker.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Manifestation of Insanity

Michael Fong
Journal #5 Edgar Allan Poe
October 7, 2009

"I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the phantasmagoric influence of the gloomy furniture of the room-of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed...Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with haste, for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night, and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment." (Edgar Allan Poe 1562)

"He was an adventurer into the vaults and cellars and horrible underground passages of the human soul. He sounded the horror and the warning of his own doom." (D.H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature 1924)

While the narrator in the story tries to assist his friend Roderick Usher through his mysterious bout of illness, he was at the same time becoming increasingly paranoid about the house and the environment he was in. This serves as a precursor for the eventual ending of the story, in which the terrible revelation meets both of them.

I recall when I first read Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" the constant chill of impeding horror, mystery, and suspense was so perfectly executed that it was almost as if a motion picture was playing before me, with the events unfolding before my very eyes. The art of manipulating and affecting strongly the minds of readers is incredibly hard; Poe's mastery of the skill of Gothic story telling is simply breathtaking.

Part of what the story is dealing with is the notion of insanity, and the way that Poe handled this particular topic was exercised to perfection. Is it the mental illness that induces physical manifestations in which the narrator and Roderick Usher both experience, or is it the physical surroundings that caused the psychological symptoms? Poe, in my opinion, deliberately blurred the line in between, and in doing so, the whole notion of insanity is presented in a unbelievably realistic light. The infusion of the house as a "living organism" actively taking part in the story also heightens the horror and suspense in the story.

People have always been fascinated with the psychology of the mind, and I think D.H. Lawrence made an extremely acute observation: Poe is indeed embarking on adventures thro
ugh both the minds and the soul of man. He wrings logic and reason to their knees, and replaces them with emotions, chaos, and instability. As readers, we are thrown into the mix. I myself personally feel that reading "The Fall of the House of Usher" is similar to walking in a dark corridor with the carpet continuously being pulled away from time to time. We are currently living in the modern times with horror movies available to us in such amazing realistic precision, and yet the perpetual fear as well as the power to ensnare readers into its web of horror and suspense that Poe's work retains surely is a statement cementing his place and legacy in the Gothic genre of literature.

The Man Behind the Speeches

Michael Fong
Journal #4 Abraham Lincoln
October 7, 2009

"With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lastiing peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." (Lincoln 1636)

"In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color." (Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass - Wikiquote)

The second inaugural address came on the eve of preeminent victory for Abraham Lincoln's side. Yet instead of outright celebration, Lincoln adopts a forlorn and melancholy tone in addressing the Civil War, the war that left the United States in tattered pieces. He suggests in his speech that the war was spurned forth by a higher power, or a divine power, as a punishment to their wrongful deeds. Lincoln ends with slight hope and optimism, calling for the people to unite as one and to heal together.

Lincoln possesses the ability that comes with the long line of successful orators before him: the ability to unite people with the power of his words. Despite the conclusion of the Civil War being one of the most turbulent and chaotic times in U.S. history, I myself could honestly say that if I were an audience when Lincoln delivered his speech, even though if I disagree with his beliefs and ideals, I would still be extremely moved. As I read the speech, I could not help but connect it with the similarities of Barack Obama's inaugural speech: "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." There is a reason why many of our presidents as well as influential figures from the past look to Lincoln as the inspiration of speeches, and this is why.

It remains a regrettable thing though, that no visual or audio records of Lincoln's speeches were ever captured. Reading the text of the speech is like reading the sheet music of an opera. You could only imagine or visualize the music in harmony together, but you could never get to witness the actual performance. The same thing could be said for Lincoln's speech. The rhythm, the tone, the pace, the pauses, and all the rest of the elements that are incorporated within speeches could not be seen in only the text of the speech. How great would it be if one could go back in time and be amongst the hundreds listening in rapt attention and awe to Lincoln delivering his famous Gettysburg Address, and admire his tremendous oratory in its full glory!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The black veil

Michael Fong
English 48A
Journal #3 Nathaniel Hawthorne
October 5, 2009

"'Why do you tremble at me alone?' cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. 'Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made the piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and lo! on every visage a black veil!" (Hawthorne 1320)

"I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth, the ... jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts." (Sophia Hawthorne, Wikipedia)

Father Hooper's seemingly stubborn persistance in wearing his black veil did not waver nor sway even in the face of death. With his dying breath, he questions the spectators as to why did they only focus on the black veil upon his face, but not the black veils that they had on themselves.

Given the setting of Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil", I would say that this story definitely carries a subtle biblical undertone to it. There was a tale told in the New Testament about a woman who was condemned to be stoned to death because of a sin that she committed. The angry mob was about hurl their stones at her, when Jesus stepped in, and invited all of those who have not sinned to stone the woman to death. One by one, the people left, knowing with a guilty conscience that each and every one of them had sinned in their lives.

The primary message of this particular tale is to remind people not to be ignorant of their own flaws and merely focus on those of the others. Within a Christian context, every man is a sinner. A similar point here, I would say, is being made by Hawthorne. Father Hooper acknowledges his own sin or shortcoming with his wearing of the veil. His relatively high social rank combined with his occupation could be Hawthorne's own way of saying that even the noblest of us may have, one way or the other, committed a sin at some point in his or her life. While literal stones are not thrown at Father Hooper, stones of doubt, shock, and pity are constantly hurled in his way from the moment he wore the veil in public. His dying words echo the message within the Bible; in a way, he accuses the onlookers of their own ignorance, and that they all are wearing the black veil, a metaphorical representation of, in my opinion, sin and evil.

Like Sophia Hawthorne, I really am quite amazed by the execution of this story; the power in which it has through the exploration of human nature through sheer simplicity. The creation of the character Father Hooper by Hawthorne is a brutal but real reminder of the endless counts of evil within the society. Hawthorne wishes to shed the "veil" that clouds us in the perception of ourselves, and see the "veil" of sins that we are actually hiding behind but unaware of.