Conflict may be simply described as a struggle between two opposing sides. An internal conflict is when a character is mentally struggling with two completely different thoughts or emotions within him. On the contrary, an external conflict refers to the struggles between a character and some outside forces. Such duality of conflicts is a theme vastly explored in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil" and it contributes to its reputation as a parable. Hawthorne presents us with an intricate character – Reverend Mr. Hooper – a young minister that one day decides to deliver a Sunday sermon while wearing a black veil that covers his face entirely except for his mouth and chin. Not only does the veil itself cause confusion among the people of Milford but it also becomes a reason for the main character's loneliness and alienation later as the story progresses. It is implied that the preacher had committed a secret sin that could be a reason for his veil since the black color usually symbolizes death, grief and sadness or mystery.
The sin is not clarified by the author of the story but the minister tends to point out during his sermons the ambiguity of the secret sin and sorrow that everyone carries is why he believes that everyone wears a veil. The internal conflict is within the Reverend himself and it is the reason for his decision to wear it until his death. The external one is much less complicated since it is a conflict between the minister and those around him who react with shock and confusion. The inner conflict that Mr. Hooper faces is one that takes a form of guilt for his supposed past misdeeds. "I, perhaps, like most other mortals, have sorrows dark enough to be typified by a black veil," he says, indicating that he feels the need to wear the veil to visualize that he is a sinner. He carries a secret sin; therefore, he chooses to cover his face as a symbol of people hiding their sins since he believes that everyone is figuratively wearing a veil. Edgar Allan Poe in his review of Twice-Told Tales suggested that the sin Mr. Hooper was guilty of was the "crime of dark dye". In his interpretation, the cause of the Reverend's internal conflict was a sin of adultery that may have had some connection with the young maiden whose funeral was presented in Hawthorne's short story. It is important to realize that Mr. Hooper's self-veiling was the very cause of his alienation. He used his sermon about the secret sin as a parable to influence the townspeople.
However, the parable is what turned the townspeople against him and it is the very reason of his lonely life. He says to his fiancée "O! You know not how lonely I am, and how frightened, to be alone behind my black veil. Do not leave me in this miserable obscurity forever!," to manifest his sorrows and to draw her attention to his fear of loneliness. He points out that this piece of crape separates him from the world and even his beloved one cannot come behind it. The veil "kept him in that saddest of prisons, his own heart," which suggests that not only does the black piece of crape separate him from his congregation but, surprisingly, also from God himself. His aversion towards the veil was 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". Although for him it was unquestionable that he had to wear his black veil he struggled throughout his life, therefore, it is pointed out that "for some time previous, his mind had been confused, wavering doubtfully between the past and the present, and hovering forward, as it were, at intervals, into the indistinctness of the world to come," but his doubts were never strong enough to cast aside the veil. In the introductory part of the "Minister's Black Veil," it is stated that there was "another clergyman in New England, Mr. Joseph Moody, of York, Main [who] made himself remarkable by the same eccentricity that is here related of the Reverend Mr. Hooper". Hawthorne remarks that Mr. Moody's case was different since when he was younger he had killed a friend by accident and because of that he hid his face behind a veil. Mr. Moody's veil surely symbolizes grief but the means by which he accidentally killed his friend are unknown, therefore, "we are faced with ‘ambiguity of sin or sorrow,' as much as in Hooper's case," since we, too, do not know the clear reason behind his internal conflict.When it comes to the external conflict, the veil is the symbol of the preacher's isolation from his congregation.
The first time he wears a veil they think that the minister has gone mad and visibly express their disapproval, "he has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face," says an old woman. Something within him seems to have changed. He delivers his sermons in the same manner but his congregation notices a difference when the case of a secret sin is the subject of his first sermon with the veil on; his words become the most powerful ones they have ever heard. The black veil became the main topic in the whole village of Milford. And yet, no one asked the Reverend for the reason behind this mysterious piece of cloth. Perhaps the townspeople did not want to know the answer in the first place, afraid that what Mr. Hooper was hiding was nothing but terrible. His fiancée was the first to question the veil and to ask him to cast it aside but his refusal to do so caused Elizabeth to bid him farewell. The black veil affected his life in many ways; for instance, he had to give up his usual walks at sunset to the burial ground because his presence drew too much attention and children fled whenever they saw him. The congregation alienates themselves from the minister because they do not understand the reasoning behind his actions and his refusal to take that piece of crape off is what continues to set him apart from them. On his deathbed when he says, "I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!," he implies that everyone hides their sins behind a veil and it is about time that they realized that because judgment will come for all of them. This very scene may be the reason why the story is described by Hawthorne himself as "a parable." "The Minster's Black Veil" is a story of many interpretations.
The duality of conflicts is certainly the centerpiece of this short story and it contributes to its complexity and ambiguity that altogether leaves a huge impact on a reader. While the reason behind Mr. Hooper's self-veiling remains unexplained throughout the story, his external conflict is way clearer since it focuses on the townspeople's reaction to the veil which serves as the symbol of the minister's alienation. The duality of conflicts presented in the story is the reason why it serves as a parable. When Mr. Hooper first puts on a veil his congregation thinks that it is just a prop for the sermon which subject is the secret sin. They notice a difference in the way he speaks and his words become the most powerful ones they have ever heard. Even though they soon expect him to cast aside the veil he continues to wear it throughout the story. On his deathbed when he still refuses to take the veil off he is in a way trying to teach his congregation a moral lesson that everyone hides behind a veil with their secret sins.