The Dynamics of Cultural Veils: American Literary Tradition

By Mabel Deane Khawaja.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the nineteenth century Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” puzzled his readers about the symbolism and the secrecy surrounding the image of the veil. Was it equivalent to the overt symbol of the fallen condition of humans – socially or morally? Or, was it another image for the “the scarlet letter-- A” worn by Hester Pryne because of her pregnancy that unveiled her adulterous act and gender inferiority while the identity of her male counterpart remained veiled behind the secrecy of silence and gendered privilege? In Hawthorne’s fiction the veil contributes to a unique literary tradition that is rooted in Western culture, yet it creatively connects the old and the new worlds through diversity of cultures. In this new world, the symbol of the veil depicts new tensions and ambiguities latent in the American cultural diversity, and the veiled layers of meaning in American literature link the historical contexts of divergent viewpoints to varying religious ideologies, ethnic differences, and racial divides. For example, in “We Wear a Mask,”a poem by an African-American poet, presents the mask as a veiling device in an innovative context of realism to address the ambiguities of racial perceptions and misunderstanding in a culturally divided society.

Keywords: Veil, Mask, Cultural Identity, American Literary History Identitarianism, Diversity, Color-Coded Slavery, Religion, Puritan, Post-Colonial, Ambivalence

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 12, pp.175-182. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 479.033KB).

Dr. Mabel Deane Khawaja

Associate Professor, National Council of Teachers of English, University of Virginia, Hampton, Virginia, USA

Mabel Deane-Khawaja, M.A. (Western Illinois University), Ph.D. (West Virginia University) teaches literature and composition courses at Hampton University, Virginia, USA. She is a former International Programs Coordinator/French Translator of the US government and a recipient of the 1999-2000 Fulbright Award as Senior Scholar to Tunisia, North Africa. Her cross-cultural research includes several scholarly articles in refereed publications. She is a co-sponsored speaker of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE); she is also the chair of the NCTE Standing Committee on International Concerns and Editor of Assembly on American Literature publications.

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