Isolation as the Price of Honesty
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the short story “The Minister’s Black Veil.” In fact, this story is considered to be one of the best examples of American short fiction. The story is particularly interesting as it is developed around a single symbol. The poem “We Wear the Mask” is written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, and it is also created and evolved around a single symbol. Moreover, the analysis will show that these symbols are similar in some way as they depict the conflict person vs. society. “An Enemy of the People” is a play, which belongs to the genre of misc fiction. The play is created and developed on the confrontation of the protagonist and the town’s community. The general theme of the poem, short story, and play goes about the fact that people attempt to oppose the society. The main theme in all analyzed writings is provided in the form of “person vs. society” conflict. The analysis will show that the reasons for confrontation might be very different, but fear is usually considered to be the basic ground. In the short story, people are afraid of the person who is able to acknowledge one’s sins. In the poem, the whole society is afraid to see its own cruelty, whereas in the play, people are afraid to change the usual way of life and reveal the truth about chicanes. Sometimes, it is very complicated to reveal the truth or show the true face, genuine emotions, and authentic desires. Usually, it leads to confrontation as the majority of people are afraid to hear the truth or change their typical lifestyle.
The short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” starts with a quite unusual scene. In fact, readers understand that the sexton arrives at mass on the Sabbath, having a black veil covering his eyes. Such a thing cannot be unnoticed, and all citizens start to gossip. As a matter of fact, there are two major ideas concerning the sexton and a black veil. Firstly, people believe that he lost his mind, but then they state that the sexton is covering some shameful sin (Hawthorne 98). The story is very allegoric. Thus, the major theme is the revealed sin and underlain guilt. In fact, Hooper is literally wearing his sin on his face. Moreover, this is a quite uncomfortable situation for the citizens because with the help of Hooper’s sin demonstration, they are becoming aware of personal sins. Actually, the black veil has not changed Hooper’s manner of speaking as he continues to behave as usual, speaking with children and hailing other citizens. Besides, it is possible to see the smile behind the black veil. Hooper does not take off the black veil even for a wedding ceremony, and this fact casts a dark horror over the lovely event. Nevertheless, the black veil is frightful even for Hooper as he sees the reflection in the glass, while announcing the toast to the couple, and even spills wine (Hawthorne 100). This fact makes Hooper leave the celebration immediately. Moreover, the black veil has ruined Hooper’s personal life as his fiancée Elizabeth terminated the engagement in response to Hooper’s refusal to uncover the veil. The protagonist tries to explain that he has to maintain the veil as a symbol and wear it day and night, but Elizabeth does not understand him (Hawthorne 102). In fact, Hooper is left alone for the rest of his life, and he understands that the veil instills serious fear in all citizens. Hooper is sore as everyone tries to omit him. Actually, all children run away from him, and all people think that he is hiding a serious crime. Even when Hooper lies on his deathbed, citizens tremble as they are afraid of him. Before his death, the sexton explains people that all of them are wearing black veils. Hooper is veiled even in the casket, lying with a faint smile on his lips (Hawthorne 107).
The reaction of citizens to the black veil is more important than the very fact of black veil’s existence. The reaction is overflowed with ambiguity. In fact, the ambiguity demonstrates the inherent sin and general hypocritical nature of all townspeople. People omit, are afraid of, and shun the sexton only because of the black veil and not due to his actions. They are ready to assume that the sexton has been able to commit a serious crime just to have an explanation for the black veil. In reality, these actions indicate that citizens are very shallow, and their faith is absolutely unappreciative.
Generally speaking, the black veil may be considered a symbolic mirror, which allows townspeople to become more aware of their personal sins. Thus, the more they become aware of their sins, the more awkwardly and uneasily they feel being close to the sexton and seeing his black veil. In fact, Hooper helped understand that the sin would exist despite all efforts to avoid it. Everyone sins, and it is much better to face a personal sin rather than ignore it. Hooper is the one to teach this truth to townspeople, but they are too uncomfortable with it. Thus, the black veil is the symbol of a secret sin and the representation of a terrible human nature.
The poem “We Wear the Mask” is a work of African-American Paul Laurence Dunbar. In the times of the poem’s creation, African-American people’s rights were humiliated. Hence, it is dedicated to the topic of racism. As the author was a representative of the African-American community, he utilized the word “we” as one of the core pillars of his poem (Dunbar 1). Therefore, the author is able to speak on behalf of the whole African-American community. Given the fact that African-Americans were suffering from racism, the author was unable to write his ideas directly. Thus, the poem is rich in figurative language. The first line is an example of personification as the mask is provided with the ability to behave as a human being. It “grins and lies” (Dunbar 1). Moreover, this phrase indicates that the mask helps hide the genuine feelings and emotions, substituting all true facial expressions. The fourth line of the first stanza shows the example of hyperbole. By the phrase “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile,” the author exaggerates emotions and puts special emphasis on psychological sore and suffering (Dunbar 4). Nevertheless, the mask allows everyone to believe that people wearing masks are happy. The second line of the second stanza is also the example of hyperbole and irony. On the one hand, it is impossible to count “tears and sighs.’’ On the other hand, it becomes obvious that the world will not bother itself with somebody’s tears as it is satisfied with smiling masks. The fifth line of the third stanza is another example of personification. Applying “the world dream,” the author provides human qualities to the world as it is an abstract notion (Dunbar 14). Persons who are wearing masks understand that all people in the world are satisfied with a sweet lie and not the bitter truth. Masks help conceal all genuine feelings and emotions, which were felt by people wearing those masks.
The author applies repetition in his poem. In fact, repetition usually allows to emphasize the core idea. The repetition technique is applied to the phrase “we wear the mask” (Dunbar 1, 9, 15). This phrase underlines the feelings of the person who permanently has to wear a mask, having no ability to demonstrate true emotions and facial expressions. African-Americans had to wear masks in order to repress their emotions. Masks allowed them to simplify their lives as they were acting the way the world wanted them to act. Nevertheless, the mask is unable to take away inner strength. Sometimes, people decide to put on masks just to hide true emotions as they are afraid to demonstrate them. Sometimes, people chose to be insincere for their own sake and peace. This is a matter of choice and inner strength. However, the ability to choose whether to demonstrate true feelings or not was taken away from the African-American community, and they had no other option. They had to confront the whole world as the whole world was opposing them.
“An Enemy of the People” is a play written by Henrik Ibsen. The play is set in a town where the big bathing complex has to be built. As a matter of fact, this complex is of the utmost importance for the general economy of the town (Ibsen 12). These baths are infected with a deadly disease. Therefore, they are to be either repaired or closed. Dr. Stockmann is able to receive support just in time to rescue the community. Nevertheless, the major of the town, who is the brother of Dr. Stockmann, insists that the restoration would be too costly. Thus, Dr. Stockmann is supposed to renounce his statement. In fact, the major is able to convince almost everyone is the town that Stockmann’s findings are not so significant. Moreover, even during the lecture, which is dedicated to the baths, the major does everything to keep Dr. Stockmann away from speaking. After his long speech, which has been mostly devoted to the despotism of the general mass, his auditory is quite offended. In the course of this meeting, Dr. Stockmann is named “the enemy of the people” (Ibsen 15). As a result, Dr. Stockmann and his daughter lose their jobs, and their home is vandalized. Despite everything, Dr. Stockmann denies his authority and decides to stay in the town as the family supports him. He concludes, “The strongest man is the man who stands alone” (Ibsen 86). Thus, it is obvious that the play presents a complex analysis of the conflict “person vs. society.” On the one hand, it is the critique of democracy due to the tyranny of the majority. On the other hand, leaders who usually are unintelligent and cunning can easily manipulate that majority. Finally, this conflict is provoked by the fact that Dr. Stockmann is an idealistic nature, whereas the society is quite realistic, pragmatic, and primitive.
The analysis has shown that fear was the major reason for confrontation. In the short story “The Minister’s Black Veil,” the sexton uses the black veil in order to hide the sin as he is ready to acknowledge it, while other people are afraid to do that. This fact causes the conflict. In the poem “We Wear the Mask,” people wear masks in order to hide their pain and humiliation from the rest of the world, which is afraid to see its own cruelty. Nevertheless, the traditional saying “what is done by night appears by day” proves that all hidden emotions, desires, and facts may have quite serious consequences as they cannot be hidden forever. The short story demonstrates that the hidden sin made people suspicious of their minister, whom they trusted and respected. Moreover, due to the fact that the sexton is stubborn and does not want to reveal his sin, people have no possibility to become aware of their own sins. On the other hand, the poem shows that hidden emotions and desires allowed the whole world to ignore the requirements of the community to be free and respected. The play depicts that the fear of losing power can cause the person to show his own brother as an enemy of the people. Moreover, revealing the truth can become a serious reason for a complicated confrontation.
It can be concluded that a person is unable to solve any problem if he/she is hiding from it. Fear is the genuine reason for hiding. It will never allow to change the reality and solve the problem. Nevertheless, a person always has a choice. On the one hand, he/she may hide the truth and their own nature in order to comfort others. On the other hand, an individual may be honest with him/herself and change reality for the better, while confronting the whole society. Everything depends on the person’s will. Which one would you choose?
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “We Wear The Mask.” Poetry X. Ed. Jough Dempsey. 27 Sep 2004. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
Ibsen, Henrik. “An Enemy of the people.” Trans. R. Farquharson Sharp. Boston: Mobile Reference, 2010. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales. Ed. James McIntosh. New York: Norton. 1987. 97-107. Print.