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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Dimmesdale then gives Hester the opening she is looking for. If only he had a friend-or even an enemy-who recognized him for what he was, the worst of sinners. To see himself truthfully reflected in just one pair of eyes a day might save him.

Hester has come to the forest expressly to tell Dimmesdale that he has such an enemy. She speaks her piece now, though with great trepidation. She believes that her deception of the minister has been a dire wrong. As she confesses it, she throws herself, in an unusually demonstrative gesture, at Dimmesdale's feet.

Dimmesdale does not come off well in the next few moments. He turns to Hester in anger, accusing her of nothing short of betrayal. The raging minister tells Hester she has left him indecently exposed to his enemy. Thanks to her, his suffering has been witnessed by the very eye that would gloat over it.

Dimmesdale might have remembered that Hester has had her own trials to bear, trials in which he offered her no aid.

But Dimmesdale's fit of anger passes, leaving him quieter than before. He is now willing to make a kinder judgment on both Hester and himself. "'We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart.'"


It is characteristic of Dimmesdale that, smack in the middle of a love scene, he can make us stop and think. In his priestly way, he has just made a comparative moral judgment, one to be weighed and measured. Dimmesdale is saying that Chillingworth is guilty of a premeditated crime. The old man has turned the cold light of his intellect on human suffering and, what's more, has sought to increase it. Dimmesdale's sin, on the contrary, is the result of runaway passion. Once desire overcame his scruples as a clergyman. And since then, cowardice has taken over.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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