An Unrighteous Mask of Righteousness: Reverend Veasy from Cold Mountain

MARCH / APRIL 2014: BY HANNAH PRICE

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Now and then, someone’s sin can be compounded in our eyes when the person is someone we’d never expect to commit that sin. Think of a murder by a doctor, policeman, preacher or psychiatrist. Somehow it has a much darker undertone to it than a murder committed by someone in a lesser position. The fact that these people are trusted by the public, have sworn to help others and protect innocents makes their crime feel so much worse. The sin is the same as a murder committed by a jealous secretary or enraged postal worker, but when someone in a high position goes against everything they say they believe in, trust is broken beyond repair and lives are utterly destroyed.

Such is the case with Reverend Solomon Veasey. He is only a minor character in Cold Mountain but his tale stuck with me long afterwards (especially considering the recent death of the man who portrayed him, Phillip Seymour Hoffman). He is a wholly immoral man, someone of unrestrained self-centeredness who can’t seem to stay his lustful appetites. We’re introduced to him praying over his unconscious slave lover. Inman, the male protagonist of Cold Mountain, who is on a long trek back home after deserting the Confederate army, comes across Veasey as he prepares to drown the slave he impregnated. Inman stops him from committing murder and makes Veasey put the slave girl back in her bed. At first, Veasey thanks Inman from stopping him from “doing a grievous wrong,” but soon he expresses his great fear to Inman over what will happen to him when his wife and parishioners find out what he’s done. Inman is ashamed of the Reverend’s cowardice and corruption, so he ties him up and leaves him to face justice from the town.

Upon discovery, Veasey is exiled from his parish and ends up running for his life. Eventually he meets up with Inman again and becomes an unwelcome companion. Here Veasey turns into something of a comic relief for the audience as he prattles on about personal things Inman and the audience probably never wanted to learn about. During his short trek alongside Inman, Veasey also lets the audience into his mindset about Christianity. We begin to understand the depths of his hypocrisy as he uses faith to justify his immoral actions. “You’re a Christian, don’t you know your commandments?” Inman asks when Veasey justifies his stealing of another man’s saw.

“You’ll find the good Lord is very flexible on the subject of property. We could do a lot with this saw…” Veasey reasons.

“I should have shot you when I had the chance,” Inman says.

“Please yourself. I’m just being a Christian,” Veasey counters.

All other vices aside, Veasey’s lustful eye is his biggest problem, his Achilles heel if you will. His affair with his slave is the first thing we learn about, although chances are it was not his first dalliance. We never meet Mrs. Veasey, but we can only assume that she is a member of the angry lynch mob that chases the preacher out of town. Later on, when Veasey is on the run from Union soldiers and the home guard with Inman, he is more than receptive when a young Southern girl offers her “services” for thirty dollars, even though he never gets a chance to pursue the opportunity.

As it turns out, just as the infamous heel of Achilles led to his downfall, so does Veasey’s covetous eye. The stolen saw that Veasey justified taking lets him help a farmer with a dead cow problem.  But the farmer has something other than beef on his mind when he takes Inman and Veasey into his house for the night as a “thank you.” There are several women at this farmer’s house, and after the unfortunate pair is made good and drunk, these women set upon Inman and Veasey like seducing harpies. Inman isn’t very receptive, even in his drunken state, but Veasey gleefully engages them in a drunken four-way tryst. The deceptive farmer brings the Confederate guard home with him and the distracted Inman and Veasey are taken prisoner before they can run. In an even worse twist of fate, Union soldiers soon discover the home guard and in the ensuing shootout everyone is killed but Inman. Thus Reverend Veasey meets his end gunned down on a dusty plain, shackled alongside deserters and criminals, never to be properly buried or mourned by anyone.

I can’t help but wonder how good Veasey’s life was before he fell into a life of sin, how long he was married and whether he had ever been happy. Perhaps his immorality was of long standing and he always hid behind a mask of righteousness to cover his sins. Perhaps he truly believed that he was above the law. In any case, Reverend Veasey becomes a symbol of the destructive nature of sin and how far one can fall from grace because of it. Could he have been forgiven for if he’d turned away from his depravity, found a better path and sought God’s pardon like he encouraged his parishioners to do every Sunday? Of course! But it didn’t happen with a false faith like Veasey’s and he dies a lost soul, forever to suffer the penalty for his hypocrisy and unfettered selfishness. ♥

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hannah Price thrives on creativity and loves to be inspired by the creativity of others. Her passion is storytelling in all its forms of expression. Some of those loves are American Sign Language, theater, film, audio drama and the varied mediums of art (painting, drawing, etc.). She wants to be involved in film production someday, as she is already involved in theater production and would like to be able to turn her hobbies into a full time occupation. 

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